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Up in Smoke: Circumventing CSAC’s Anti-Marijuana Policy

In pre-fight interviews, Nick Diaz, the highly-skilled Gracie jiu-jitsu black belt, and charismatic MMA athlete and personality, made it very clear he enjoyed smoking marijuana and, notwithstanding the California State Athletic Commission’s (“CSAC”) rules to the contrary, he planned to continue smoking in the weeks leading up to his main event bout with MMA legend Frank Shamrock.

Of course, we do not know whether Mr. Diaz made good on this promise. We do know of course that he kept his promise to defeat Frank Shamrock in dramatic fashion. He dominated Shamrock throughout the contest with a convincing display of skill, fitness, and cage savvy. (To think he accomplished this while battling a serious case of the munchies is perhaps even more heroic. That he did all of this several weeks after competing in a triathlon staggers the imagination.) He scored another victory several days after the fight when the CSAC’s Bill Douglas announced that Mr. Diaz’s drug tests came back negative.

As MMA fans, we need to ask ourselves if we care that Diaz apparently flagrantly violated the CSAC’s drug policy and got away with it rather easily. I do not know if anyone in the medical community would characterize marijuana as a performance-enhancing drug. Most of us would presume that, if anything, use of marijuana would detract from a fighter’s performance in the cage. So, the question becomes whether use of a drug like marijuana could or should result in a severe CSAC sanction for fighters not as skilled as Mr. Diaz in wriggling out of the CSAC’s seemingly feeble drug-testing protocol.

If the CSAC has chosen to prohibit marijuana use and: (1) a competitor boasts of his or her intention to violate the rule, then (2) he or she violates the rule; how much should we care – if at all?

On the MMA message boards, the consensus seems to be that Nick Diaz’s marijuana use is his business and he has to live with the consequences of getting snared. Most people argue that marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug so, the argument goes, so what if Nick Diaz gets high with a little help from his friends. Even though this argument is compelling in its simplicity and laissez-faire approach, the whole incident raises too many important issues about drug use and drug testing to warrant such casual dismissal.

Perhaps most importantly, if the CSAC can’t successfully test for marijuana, which is supposed to be detectable for at least several days, if not weeks, after use, how successful is the CSAC, or any other state athletic commission, when it comes to substances that obviously enhance a fighter’s performance?

Professional mixed martial arts, by its nature, lends itself to the abuse of certain drugs that are known to expedite recovery time between bouts. These drugs sing an alluring siren’s song to hungry fighters eager to earn a living in this sport. If you are not fighting, you are not earning. The same drugs that have plagued baseball, football, and just about every professional sport one can name are certainly available to MMA athletes.

As a fan, I could not care less if Nick Diaz smokes a joint. He could smoke between rounds as far as I am concerned. As someone who cares deeply about the integrity of the game, however, I have to take my stand against flagrant rule violations of any kind. I have listened to the arguments for and against the legalization of marijuana and, frankly, that’s a discussion for another day and another media outlet. I am not a prude and I enjoy my vices as much as the next guy. Many weekends, you will find me enjoying a nice cigar and a fine single malt with my fellow MMA enthusiasts talking about the fight game, our wives and kids, and Dana White’s eloquent video blogs. Joe Rogan, who, in my opinion, is the best MMA commentator in the business, certainly makes no secret of his marijuana smoking.  One of my new favorite pastimes is following Joe Rogan on Twitter and you only need to read a few of his posts to know that his computer screen is shrouded in smoke. I think I caught a contact high over my cable modem. Eddie Bravo is almost certainly stoned right now – in rubber guard.

Of course, we are not professional athletes and neither the CSAC nor any other sports regulating body will ever care what we are up to in the privacy of our own homes or down at the local sports bar. If we are willing to turn a blind eye to marijuana use, how many of us would be willing to take it one step further and just resign ourselves to the prevalence of drug abuse in sports? It’s a slippery slope.

Nick Diaz has chosen to fight as his profession and he is clearly an exceptional fighter. By his participation in MMA, however, he has agreed to abide by the rules of the sport and that includes the rules of the various state athletic commissions where he fights. If the CSAC rules that fighters had to wear white mouthguards and Diaz checked in with a black one, clearly his violation of the rule, no matter how arbitrary the rule might be, would result in some kind of sanction. So far, the CSAC has not expressed any interest in pursuing Mr. Diaz’s claim that he would not cease his marijuana use. All I have seen reported is that the spokesperson for the CSAC simply stated that Diaz’s test was “fine.”

If Nick Diaz was true to his word and I have no reason to believe he was not, then things are certainly not “fine” in the controversial world of drug testing athletes – and let us be clear – this is a nationwide problem.  Things are pretty far from “fine” when a fighter tells the regulatory body in charge of administering his drug test exactly which drug he will be using and how he plans on beating the test.

The CSAC either needs to scrap its prohibition against marijuana use or it needs to figure out a way to accurately and decisively test for banned drugs.  In the meantime, the CSAC should speak with Nick Diaz’s representatives about his statements in conjunction with the appropriate California officials. It would be nice if Mr. Diaz apologized to Scott Coker and Strikeforce for jeopardizing Mr. Coker’s business operations. But you would have to be smoking something strong to think that will happen.

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