Larry Sanders knows that marijuana has gotten him into hot water with the NBA, but that doesn't mean he agrees with the underlying rationale for the league's marijuana policies.
That was the obvious message from Sanders on Friday night in Chicago, just hours after the NBA handed him a five-game suspension for violating the league's anti-drug policy. Sanders admitted in a statement before the Bucks/Bulls game that the suspension was the result of marijuana use, which per the league's drug policy results in a five-game suspension after a third positive test. And while he was careful to acknowledge the very real consequences of violating the league's policies, Sanders also made his feelings about the program and marijuana's negative perception very clear. Via Charles Gardner at the Journal-Sentinel:
"It's something I feel strongly about, just to let you know something personal about me," Sanders said in an interview with the Journal Sentinel and nba.com. "I will deal with the consequences from it. It's a banned substance in my league. But I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it. I know what it is if I'm going to use it.
"I study it and I know the benefits it has. In a lot of ways we've been deprived. You can't really label it with so many other drugs that people can be addicted to and have so many negative effects on your body and your family and your relationships and impairment. This is not the same thing.
"The stigma is that it's illegal. I hate that. Once this becomes legal, this all will go away. But I understand for my work it's a banned substance. I will deal with the consequences and I apologize again to my fans for that."
Steve Aschburner had a similar piece at NBA.com, which included a bit more detail from Sanders on why he believes in legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.
"The great thing about that idea is that, then you could get prescribed for it and see a doctor and they could tell you," he said. "You don't have to self-medicate, you don't have to over-medicate ourselves. Y'know, because we don't know now. We can't diagnose ourselves.
"Once it becomes legal ... you sit down with a doctor and [he says], ‘You may need this three times a day. This dosage here.' And you don't over-medicate. It [addresses] those needs medically that you need. It's natural."
After the game neither Larry Drew nor John Hammond cared to elaborate beyond the brief statement the Bucks offered Friday afternoon, and with good reason. The Bucks are understandably not interested in crusading against the league's drug policies, and they can't be thrilled hearing Sanders draw himself into that debate either.
Not that Sanders' underlying beliefs--and willingness to stand up for them--are necessarily wrong. In fact, most Americans at this point agree with them. There's something admirable in Sanders trying to have an educated view of the topic rather than coming across as an irresponsible pothead, but that's also somewhat beside the point. Whether it's silly or not, marijuana is still illegal in most of America and expressly banned by the NBA. And if ever there was a guy who needed to choose his battles wisely, it would seem to be Sanders. In fact, may I recommend choosing no battles for the foreseeable future? Can we maybe try that for a few months?
After a year of barfights, ejections, alleged animal abuse and subpar play, no one could use some peace and quiet more than Sanders, which is precisely why Sanders weighing in on the topic is a decidedly slippery slope. So if this was a one-off statement where he tries to give his side, and we don't hear about it again? Well, that's probably best for everyone. He obviously understands that he can't afford to do this in his line of work, even if it's far more common among players than the league would like to let on. So let's just cross our fingers that Sanders, the Bucks and everyone else can move on.
If Sanders does in fact miss the first five games of the 14/15 season, the suspension will cost him just over $670,000 in forfeited salary, which on its own should be a rather massive incentive not to let this happen again. That's also significantly more than it would be if the suspension was served this season. Because Sanders' salary jumps from $3.053 million to $11 million on July 1, he would lose "only" about $186,000 if he served the suspension this season.
Of course, he would have to first be medically cleared to play again, and the Bucks have already backed themselves into a bit of a corner by claiming he was out for the season. No one would be surprised if the Bucks shut him down out of an abundance of caution--and a lack of incentives to win games--but it would naturally raise eyebrows if they changed their minds as a means of gaming the suspension. Gardner's piece from Chicago seemed to leave open that possibility, but at this point I'm guessing it's more likely that Sanders' suspension will wait until next season.