First NFL Athlete Applies for Cannabis-Based Therapeutic Use Exemption

Mike James, a free agent with the National Football League (NFL) and former running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Detroit Lions, is the first NFL athlete to apply for a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for cannabis. James’s physician, Dr. Sue Sisley, completed the TUE application for medical cannabis on behalf of James back in March 2018. That application was recently denied by the NFL.

According to a press release from the nonprofit organization Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR) (1), after James suffered a devastating leg injury and surgery he was prescribed opioids to manage his pain. He developed a year-long dependency, which finally led him to seek alternative treatment: cannabis.

The DFCR works with a roster of current and former NFL players to persuade the league to change its regressive cannabis use policy. One of their primary reasons for advocating for this change is the fact that NFL players are four times more likely than the general population to develop an opioid dependency. Even though many states have legalized cannabis use either fully or for medical purposes, the NFL still refuses to give players a viable alternative to opioids.

In an interview with (2), James said he was hopeful that he’d be able to keep playing football. "It is a game that I love very dearly,” he said. “I know right now I'm doing something that makes some people uncomfortable, and that I'm going against the establishment to push for a change in the way they look at this medicine. I know there's a greater purpose here for a lot of guys in this league who I consider family members."