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NFL is Punishing a Player for Using Medical Marijuana to Treat His Crohn’s Disease

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Buffalo Bills third-year offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson has just been hit with his second suspension of the season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. What makes this case different is the fact that Henderson’s substance abuse offense is for treating his Crohn’s disease with medical marijuana.

Henderson’s case is a testament to the ongoing societal battle over the legalization of medical marijuana. There is no ambiguity regarding Henderson’s necessity to use medical marijuana to treat pain from his Crohn’s disease. In the past year alone, Henderson’s illness has caused him to undergo two related surgeries.

According to a report in The Washington Post:

What makes Henderson’s situation unique is that he uses marijuana, which is legal in many states but prohibited under the collective bargaining agreement in the NFL, to combat the pain from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel. In January, 2 1/2 feet of his colon were removed and in April he underwent surgery to reattach his intestines. In the interim, he wore an ileostomy bag and lost 50 pounds. He chose not to appeal the four-game suspension he received in September, his first of the season.

But Henderson is expected to appeal what would be a 10-game suspension for this second offense for using a banned substance. The NFL is expected to decide his punishment this week and NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports that Henderson may take the matter to court.

This case raises serious questions about changing societal attitudes about marijuana as medicine, but also regarding the patient’s right to a choice of pain management treatment – without being beholden to dangerous opiates and pharmaceuticals.

“Merciful or not, there is no medical exception that the NFL will accept. It doesn’t matter that Seantrel is battling Crohn’s disease, and has had his intestines outside his body,” Henderson’s agent, Brian Fettner, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter after the initial suspension. “It doesn’t matter how you take it, if you digest the cannabis, that’s it. And they don’t care.”
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