Marijuana: NFL-pot-policy-change billboard up near Mile High in time for season opener

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At 10 a.m. today, hours before the NFL season kickoff game between your Denver Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens, Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert will hold a news conference at 1700 North Federal, in Mile High Stadium's shadow. The occasion? The intro of a new billboard calling for the league to amend its policy banning players from smoking pot -- a substance made legal in small amounts by Colorado's Amendment 64, a measure Tvert helped propel. Continue to see this billboard and others that illustrate Tvert's long-term commitment to the issue.

As we reported in July, Tvert first tackled the topic in 2007, when he was best known as founder of SAFER (Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation). At the time, the Miami Dolphins' Ricky Williams had applied for reinstatement to the NFL after a marijuana-related suspension, and Tvert helped coordinate the placement of a billboard in the same location near Mile High Stadium encouraging the running back to sign with Denver.

Here's a look at that billboard....

...and here's a photo of Tvert at a press event timed to the placard's unveiling: Then, this summer, Tvert, under the aegis of the Marijuana Policy Project, coordinated the placement of a billboard in Las Vegas. This time, the focus was on boxer Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., who in March was suspended from competition for nine months and fined $900,000 after a positive marijuana test. The placard decried the punishment and argued that such policies encouraged alcohol abuse.

Here's a photo of the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. billboard:

As the situation with Chavez demonstrates, policies punishing athletes for marijuana use are common in many sports organizations. But a MPP blog post on the subject stresses that some organizations have started rethinking such edicts. In May, for instance, the World Anti-Doping Agency, which monitors Olympic competitions, boosted the threshold of permitted THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) from fifteen nanograms per milliliter of blood to 150 -- and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has followed suit.

Not the NFL, however -- which is why Tvert is sending a billboard-sized message. Does he think the subject will come up during tonight's national broadcast of the Broncos-Ravens game?

Continue to see photos of the new billboard and hear from Mason Tvert. "Marijuana policy is an important issue facing our country and the NFL," Tvert says, "so we certainly hope this billboard and the issues it discusses will be addressed. Clearly, the NFL has some explaining to do when it comes to the difference in how it treats marijuana versus alcohol."

Another reason such a conversation would be appropriate, Tvert believes, is the just-inked $765 million settlement between the league and former players who sued over concussion-related concerns.

"The NFL has enough problems with players damaging their brains," he maintains. "There's clear evidence that alcohol use results in brain loss, whereas marijuana use does not. So we hope they will not add to the problem by driving players to drink instead of making the safer choice to use marijuana."

One Broncos player sitting out tonight's contest is Von Miller, who's been suspended for the first six weeks of the season. Multiple reports maintain the punishment flows from a positive drug test for marijuana and amphetamines -- possibly the club drug Molly.

Because "there's still no official confirmation that he was suspended for marijuana use," Tvert avoids putting Miller front and center in relation to his latest argument. But, he adds, "there have been countless examples of NFL players being punished harshly simply for using marijuana. Meanwhile, we know that alcohol use contributes to all sorts of problems."

For Tvert, "the perfect example is Ben Roethlisberger, who made headlines when he got drunk and allegedly assaulted a woman" back in 2010. SAFER made an example of Roethlisberger in March of that year, shortly before prosecutors decided not to charge him in the incident.

Of course, controversial matters are seldom addressed during the televised presentation of big games like the one taking place tonight. But Tvert hopes the billboard, or at least the argument it's making, earns a little time anyhow.

"If the broadcast of the game includes countless beer commercials, as usual," he says, "we certainly hope they give a little time to the discussion about how the NFL treats marijuana and alcohol."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Suspensions and bans for athletes using pot should change, activist says."

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