Like a lot of racers, NASCAR driver Ronnie Hults has wrecked a car or two. It's part of the profession, and he knows it firsthand, telling 9News last night that his body has paid the price for high-speed collisions -- notably his lower back and hips. Some nights, he feels like his body is on fire. So, like nearly 127,000 other Coloradans, he turned to medical marijuana and finally found relief. But like the federal government, NASCAR doesn't think marijuana is medicine.
Last night, 9News ran a segment on Hults, who has been suspended from NASCAR indefinitely after testing positive for using ganja, despite it being legal in the state.
According to Hult's attorney, Gabriel Schwartz, Hults was winning races and becoming a relatively well-known racer outside the tight-knit Colorado scene. A few weeks ago, before a race at Colorado National Speedway, he failed a supposedly random drug test and was suspended per NASCAR rules. As such, he can't race unless he enters a twelve-step-like program for substance abuse, Schwartz says.
Since marijuana is still a Schedule 1 illegal drug at the federal level, medical marijuana patients have little to no job security when it comes to using cannabis, because employers aren't obligated to respect a state law that violates a federal one.
NASCAR is no different, and the organization has taken a pretty hard-line stance against all federally illegal drugs after racer Aaron Fike, a Truck series driver, admitted in 2009 to using heroin while racing. Since then, NASCAR created a relatively all-encompassing list of banned drugs -- including many legal pharmaceutical drugs. Ironically, several of the substances are featured prominently on the hoods of the driver's cars.
Among the things NASCAR bans are: meth, MDMA, hydromorphone, oxycodone, heroin, Xanax, Valium, human growth hormone, muscle relaxers and Ambien, as well as other sleep aids. Essentially, any of the drugs that would be prescribed for Hults's pain by a doctor and anything that he might use to get some sleep at night.
Schwartz says the story about Hults being suspended broke on several race blogs as well as on ESPN over the weekend -- but they didn't report what he had been suspended for. Schwartz maintains that the initial reaction from people played on the redneck stereotype of the sport, implying that Hults was being accused of using meth or other hard drugs.
"But he didn't do that," Schwartz said. "He didn't violate the law and he has a right to this in this state."
Schwartz concedes that his client wouldn't win against NASCAR in a court of law -- the same fate suffered by Jason Beinor, an MMJ patient who was fired from his street-sweeping job and denied unemployment benefits after a positive drug test. Still, he hopes for victory in the court of public opinion. He says Hults has received a lot of support over the last few days, especially from fellow patients who could easily be in his shoes.
"There are a lot of folks out there with red cards that other people wouldn't suspect have them," he said. "Ronnie was like that, and I think people can relate to it."
Shwartz says Hults has officially appealed the drug test. We'll continue following the story.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: Herbal Wellness, Fort Collins pot shop, open after armed robbery."