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A New Low for the NCAA

Last October, when the NCAA announced that the University of North Carolina would receive no penalties for an academic scandal that modeled the most morally offensive institutional misconduct in the history of college sports, I penned a tongue-in-cheek obituary for the idea of the “student-athlete.”  I simply couldn’t imagine that the college athletics could sink any lower when it came to protecting student-athletes.

I was wrong.

This week, Auburn University football team cut a recruit for using a substance banned by the NCAA.  C.J. Harris, a promising high school strong safety, had been taking hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) that he had found effective for treating and preventing debilitating seizures caused by epilepsy.

I wrote about CBD a few months ago at this site.  Obviously, NCAA and Auburn officials count themselves among the vast majority of KSR readers who skip over my policy columns to get the scoop on basketball recruiting.  But had they read it, they would have learned some critical points:

  • Hemp is NOT marijuana.  Contrary to most popular coverage of the Harris incident, hemp-derived CBD is NOT medical marijuana.
  • Hemp-derived CBD cannot get you high.  By legal and scientific definition, hemp-derived CBD contains less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the intoxicating chemical compound found in much, much more concentrated dosages in your typical joint or bong.
  • Hemp-derived CBD is safe.  So says an October report issued by the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence which opined that CBD is safe, well-tolerated, not addictive and not linked with any negative public health concerns.
  • Hemp-derived CBD is federally legal, as long as it is produced under a congressionally-authorized state pilot program, such as the product used by C.J. Harris.

According to press reports, the NCAA has banned CBD because they argue any amount of THC is too much. That’s absurd.  That’s like banning cough syrup because there may be a trace amount of alcohol.  Or banning poppy seed bagels because of the remote connection to heroin.

There’s much anecdotal evidence that many patients suffering from debilitating diseases such as intractable epilepsy have found relief taking CBD.  Until CBD medicines secure the appropriate federal approvals, marketing them for disease remediation is inappropriate. But these products which are sold in health food stores across the country — experts predict a multi-billion dollar industry within a few years — must be made available for families like the Harrises.  And no athlete should be punished for taking a natural food supplement that does not intoxicate nor provide any performance-enhancing advantage. (Note that the World Anti-Doping Agency recently dropped CBD from its list of prohibited substances.)

Unfortunately, CBD has been caught up unfairly in the high-profile debate over legalizing medical marijuana.  Confusion between the two has led to misguided law enforcement actions and public statements.  But just in the past few months, thanks to hemp industry education efforts, officials in Tennessee, Indiana and Wisconsin have overturned prohibitory actions and declared hemp-derived CBD legal for retail sale.  (Kentucky’s law is clear — hemp-derived CBD is legal — thanks to a 2017 statute championed by Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles.)

Best yet, there’s a very promising effort in Washington, D.C. to resolve the confusion once and for all.  The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 would permanently remove hemp and hemp-derived products such as CBD from the purview of the Controlled Substances Act — moving beyond the current pilot program regime.  The effort’s top champion is Congress’ most influential and effective legislative strategist: Kentucky’s own Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  McConnell is seeking to attach the Hemp Farming Act to the 2018 Farm Bill, a critical agriculture act which must pass before the previous version expires on September 30.  (Not coincidentally — given the Commonwealth’s enduring hemp history — the companion bill in the U.S. House is sponsored by another Kentuckian, Congressman James Comer, who led the state’s efforts to legalize hemp when he served as our Agriculture Commissioner.)

Too often, when we read news of NCAA fails like this, the most we can do is fire off an angry tweet.

Not this time.  If you care about athletes like C.J. Harris — or are among the millions of Americans who value access to hemp-derived CBD for its various health and wellness benefits — you too can help secure passage of the Hemp Farming Act.

The hemp industry’s trade association — the U.S. Hemp Roundtable — has developed an online portal to empower citizens to lobby their Members of Congress.  It really just takes a few minutes — click here — and even if you don’t know who represents you in Washington, the portal will help you prepare a personalized message and send it directly to your U.S. Senators and Representative.

We might never be able to convince the NCAA to act in the best interests of student-athletes.  But by permanently legalizing hemp, we can take this arrow out of their quiver, and allow the C.J. Harrises of the world to live healthy lives…and not be punished for it.


Article written by Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller, The Recovering Politician (Twitter: @RecoveringPol), writes about the politics of sport and the sport of politics...and sometimes about bourbon. Jonathan has been elected twice as Kentucky's State Treasurer; practices as a crisis management attorney; authored three books on faith, public policy and crisis management; serves as a Contributor to The Daily Beast, played straight man on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart; reached the final table of the World Series of Poker; and with his summer camp sweetheart, raised two remarkable twenty-something daughters.

20 Comments for A New Low for the NCAA

  1. rlburd2
    9:03 pm May 27, 2018 Permalink

    Waaaaaah. Another sad violin piece from a failed politician.

    • gobble gobble
      9:32 pm May 27, 2018 Permalink

      Ignorant, bigoted rednecks… the real problem with this country

    • gobble gobble
      9:32 pm May 27, 2018 Permalink

      You’re really a POS human being

    • gobble gobble
      9:43 pm May 27, 2018 Permalink

      This isn’t a “sad violin piece” as your intolerable, low iq self suggests… this is a kids life. Just one seizure could kill him, so to deny someone that opportunity to better their own health and life is beyond evil and ignorant.

    • bigbluebanana
      9:55 pm May 27, 2018 Permalink

      Give em hell gobble!

    • unbridled
      10:43 am May 28, 2018 Permalink

      Hey gobble….if the kid could potentially have a life ending seizure, why in the world would he be playing full contact football? They did him a favor and a rule is a rule. Calm down snowflake.

  2. bigbluebanana
    9:13 pm May 27, 2018 Permalink

    It’s really absurd. I had cancer, to combat pain rather than get hooked on opiates, I’m a regular user of CBD and THC. CBD is harmless, I have an old college buddy who has an epileptic 8 year old son and the 8 year old uses CBD to amazing results. NCAA is a clueless entity.

  3. notFromhere
    10:48 pm May 27, 2018 Permalink

    It’s all about the student atgletes…. never has been and never will be

  4. Rabbi Li
    12:09 am May 28, 2018 Permalink

    Marijuana is a crutch for the underachievers. An excuse for living in moms basement or for not gaining an education.

    Are there people this can benefit? It’s like gender pronouns in Canada. The percentage of people who will benefit from this is so small that it isn’t even worth discussing.

    Miller brings it up because it’s a business opportunity. They want to medicate 50% of the population to help the 0.2% that can benefit from it.

    Regarding the excuses that will creep up from this where the individual was actually smoking blunts in the Bill Minardi Swing House are clear and sad.

    • Bobbum Man
      1:23 am May 28, 2018 Permalink

      Not sure what ur talking about, marijuana is completely different than CBD oil

  5. Luether
    2:12 am May 28, 2018 Permalink

    Finally – a succinct and fact based article posted by Jon that actually has something to do with sports. Congratulations…

  6. wildcat74
    7:47 am May 28, 2018 Permalink

    As a pharmacologist, I’m here to tell you that you’ve cherry picked the facts that suite your arguement. In science, we call this “one-citedness”. Are there medical benefits to CBD, yes, but there are also we’ll known and potentially severe issues, particularly in the developing nervous system (eg, kids and adolescents). One of the reasons it is effective in seizures is that it blocks much of the brains excititory activity. But you skipped all the long term consequences of that in a 8 year old’s brain. Stick with sports writing.

    • Cletis75
      9:07 am May 28, 2018 Permalink

      How about all the side effects of the pills the pharmaceutical companies push? They are much worse than what you are talking about. F’n hypocrite!

    • 4everUKblue
      9:42 am May 28, 2018 Permalink

      Exactly! If this were a Pfizer product it would somehow be ok? And what about the effects of all the mercury based vaccines have on kids and adolescents? I guess Thimerosal has no side effects…

  7. Headhurts
    8:27 am May 28, 2018 Permalink

    CDB oil will not make him or her a super athlete or give them an advantage in sports so what all the hub bub…….bub.

  8. Headhurts
    8:28 am May 28, 2018 Permalink


  9. Memphis UK Cat
    2:03 pm May 28, 2018 Permalink

    Great article

  10. mmosley1961
    3:27 pm May 28, 2018 Permalink

    This is so absurd. My daughter takes CBD oil for seizures and nonepileptic myoclonus. I buy it (LEGALLY) from a company in South Carolina. It’s derived from Hemp, not marijuana. One of the things that is confusing is that the product derived from marijuana is also called CBD oil. Most people, including doctors, don’t realize that my daughter is not taking medical marijuana. It’s not the same. We can’t buy that legally in Ky. And, the FDA just approved a cannabidiol drug called Epidiolex, eligible to be prescribed for drug-resistant epilepsy in June. He shouldn’t have to, but maybe he can switch to a medication that is prescribed by a physician and not be disqualified. I don’t know about legal recourse, but he certainly is not using marijuana and has a right to play NCAA sports.

  11. Alleykat16
    12:14 pm May 30, 2018 Permalink

    That’s crazy but its the ncaa