NASCAR Race Weekend Central
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Should NASCAR Legalize Marijuana?

On Wednesday (May 2), NASCAR announced the indefinite suspension of Spencer Gallagher after he violated Section 19 of the rulebook — the substance abuse policy. The suspension came just days after he picked up his first NASCAR XFINITY Series win at Talladega Superspeedway.

NASCAR did not say what substance it was that was in Gallagher’s system when he was drug tested, and I am not going to speculate on what it was. Gallagher said in a press release that it was a “one-time error in judgment” that “will never happen again” and immediately enrolled in NASCAR’s Road to Recovery.

If this was a one-time incident, it will not alter my opinion of Gallagher. Everyone deserves a second chance. Plus, who hasn’t done something stupid in their 20s that they regret?

My hope is that Gallagher will come out the other side as an even better person. He has one of the biggest personalities in NASCAR and both times I’ve interviewed him I’ve gotten tremendous quotes.

But what this whole situation did was cause me to look at the list of substances banned in NASCAR’s rulebook. It’s a lengthy list but is summed up with this statement:

“NASCAR Members are prohibited from using, having in their system, possessing, purchasing, selling and/or participating in the distribution of any drug that is illegal to possess, use, and/or distribute by the laws of the United States of America and/or any of its 50 states, regardless of the amount, at any time. Illegal acquisition and/or illegal distribution of any prescription or over-the-counter medication are strictly prohibited at any time.”

So basically, you can only do a drug if it is prescribed to you, and NASCAR has to be made aware of that prescription. For example, Denny Hamlin caused a stir when he told Pardon My Take that about 70 percent of drivers take Adderall, which contains the banned substance, amphetamine. While that number is an overestimate, there probably are some drivers that take it, but they were prescribed it. Had they not been, they would have been suspended just like Gallagher.

That policy makes complete sense for most of the substances on the list, except for one: marijuana.

Now, I’m not writing this to be viewed as the pot-smoking journalist who just wants to see marijuana become legal everywhere; that is not the case. Whether you’re pro-weed or anti-weed, I couldn’t care less. But the fact is that marijuana is legal to a large portion of Americans, and I don’t want to see some of those Americans robbed of that right just because of NASCAR’s drug policy.

According to Business Insider, medical use of marijuana is legal in 29 states and recreational use in nine states. Most of the NASCAR community is based in North Carolina, a state where marijuana is not legal at all. This means that most drivers and crew members probably can’t get prescribed medical marijuana. The exception is Furniture Row Racing, which is located in Colorado, one of the states where marijuana is legal for medical and recreational use.

People on FRR could probably get prescribed marijuana, but they can’t smoke it recreationally while they are home. Marijuana has been known to stay in your system for several weeks after you smoke it. Hypothetically, if someone with FRR smoked marijuana while they were back at the shop in Colorado, then it would still be in their system when NASCAR tested them at the track and they would fail.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has four races on the schedule in either California or Nevada, states where recreational marijuana use is legal. Two of those races are part of the West Coast Swing, where a good number of the NASCAR community will stay on the West Coast for three weeks and do fun stuff in the area during their off days — but they can’t smoke weed.

Why can’t those drivers and crew members do an activity that is perfectly legal in those states? How ironic would it be for someone to get suspended from NASCAR while they are in those states?

Sometimes drivers vacation in other countries during the few and far between off-weeks. If a driver goes to Amsterdam, gets to hang out with the locals and smokes while he is there, then should he be suspended?

Marijuana is going to continue to become legal in more and more states, and it is going to become tempting for a lot of the competitors. NASCAR needs to loosen up its rules on marijuana before that happens.

Obviously, drivers and crew members shouldn’t be lighting up blunts right before or during a race. They would be stupid to do so. My suggestion is to make the rule similar to the one currently in place for alcohol use, which prohibits drinking alcohol 12 hours prior to an event.

According to a study done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driving while under the influence of alcohol is way more dangerous than doing so while high on marijuana, so the rules against it could at least be equal to the ones in place for alcohol.

Speaking of alcohol, with beer companies like MillerCoors pulling back on their NASCAR support, legalizing marijuana could provide new sponsorship opportunities. Let’s not forget that last year Carl Long showed up with sponsorship from Veedverks, a Colorado-based marijuana vaping company until NASCAR forced him to remove it. There is money to be made off of those marijuana companies.

If you’re worried about that being a bad influence, we already have to watch every week as the race winner emerges from his car and is showered with beer or champagne. We hear afterward about how wild of a celebration the winner had later that evening. I’ve seen since I was a kid just how rowdy fans at the track get when they’ve had a few too many. How would having a marijuana company on the hood of the car be any worse of an influence on kids than that?

If NASCAR doesn’t embrace the “weed movement” it’s instead going to end up with more suspended drivers, which could result in the loss of sponsorships. The sport needs to get ahead of the curve on this issue and revisit its stance on marijuana.

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About Michael Massie

Avatar
Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

18 comments

  1. Avatar

    29 States, looks like a majority. It is still some years away but If the trend continues of legalization then eventually all 50 states and then the law suits against NASCAR will begin. For better or for worse as Bob Dylan sang “Times they are a changin”.

  2. Avatar

    they need to treat it like employer drug testing. if it’s legal in the area you’re employed, the the drug test should be adjusted to not test positive for pot.

    this is an area employers need to address. i know drivers are independent contractors, but they’re typically held to the same employee rules and regulations.

    of course na$car, they’ll make their own rules.

  3. Avatar

    Yes this is going to become an issue in the next few years. Once the majority of the states allow it the Feds will have no choice but to change the laws to mirror those of the states’.

    However, individual employers can set the bar wherever they like. I’m not sure it is still the case, but I can remember when Jarrett drove for UPS there was a discussion about facial hair because UPS did not allow their employees to have facial hair. While there are no laws against facial hair, the employer can have whatever rules they like (as long as their not discriminatory). Likewise I am sure there are employers that do not want their employees to have tattoos or piercings. So even if it is legalized there is nothing forcing employers to accept it. Of course the downside is that they are limiting the pool of eligible employees from which they can hire (which is why most companies don’t have rules against facial hair or tattoos).

    Getting back on topic, the one hurdle that would stand in the way of NASCAR relaxing those rules is, how do you test/determine if someone smoked a joint last week or an hour ago? I’ve heard blood tests would work but they require more effort to administer and test compared to urine.

  4. Avatar

    MJ shouldn’t be illegal at the federal level in the first place. The powers the states conferred to the fedgov are limited. Everything else, including drug regulation, is left to the states per the 10th amendment. The republic of the founders was destroyed by Lincoln as a result of his war to prevent Southern independence and since then the story of the US is one federal encroachment after another.

    That said, nascrap is a private entity and can allow / ban whatever they want. Heck bzf could drive up concession sales by allowing fans to toke in the stands. They can have an official bong of nascar; official vapor oil thing; official roach clip. The possibilities are endless. And being stoned might help the fan experience as the racing itself is mind-numbingly boring.

    • Avatar

      Yeah, the 14th Amendment cancelled out most of the 10th. And courts have followed the 14th Amendment for 150+ years. So states rights have been gone for a long time – legally speaking, not FOX speaking.

  5. Avatar

    Bill B touches on an important point, testing for incapacitation. That is the one point that, to me, mitigates against legalization and certainly against acceptance in racing. With alcohol we can test against a level which we empirically know to be generally incapacitating. Is it bulletproof? No, but it is accurate enough to be useful for purpose of legal enforcement, and to have been been upheld in courts at all levels. For marijuana, we have no method to test against an incapacitating level of use. At what point of use is it unsafe to operate a motor vehicle on the highway, or a race car on a track? At this point, we don’t know, and until we do, any level at all should be considered unsafe.

  6. Avatar

    Learn me something here, Massie. You must’ve been In The Tahoe when you wrote this because this the best got dang article I’ve ever read in my entire God-given life. I’d pass ya a j for a drag or two if I were with ya. We already know JimmieJ was high as a kite last week when he wrecked the field after zero MF contact and then blamed WillyTheKid.

    Drive fast, puff and pass.

  7. Avatar

    Mr. Massie needs to improve his research. Marijuana is still a Federal banned drug, EVERYWHERE IN THE US. States cannot change or repeal a Federal Statute. The Cannibas Control act is still in cull force and effect.

  8. Avatar

    Gallagher was a dumb ass. Plain and simple. People have to stop making excuses for the idiot. If it’s one thing NASCAR has done correctly the past few years it’s their substance abuse policy. It’s fair and equal to all. You want a career in NASCAR abide by the rules. They all know the rules and that there is zero tolerance. So why would jeopardize your career by even considering fooling with a banned substance. Ask Randy LaJoie if a puff of weed was worth it. Ask Mayfield if not going into the program was worth it?
    There is absolutely no need for NASCAR to remove pot from the banned list. And I doubt they ever will. I doubt car owners will want it removed. Just because it is legal doesn’t mean it’s good idea. As a driver do you want to be doing 200 mph with a competitor that may be high on pot? How fast are the reflexes of a person high on pot? Nobody knows. Ask people who have lost loved ones to drunk drivers it it is ok because alcohol is legal.
    I can’t believe this column was even written.

    • Avatar

      By your logic there should be zero tolerance for any usage of alcohol as well. You seem to be assuming that if you have detectable levels of THC in your urine that by default you must be impaired. That is not true. You can have detectable levels of TCH in your urine and not be impaired at all.

      So is the point of drug testing to make sure none of the drivers are impaired, or is it punish them for something they did that was totally legal but has traditionally been illegal? If it’s the former then current urine test isn’t reliable. In fact one of the major reasons law enforcement is against legalization is because there isn’t a reliable roadside test to determine the level of impairment (beyond walking a straight line or some other non-empirical/non-scientific test)

    • Avatar

      Very well written Mr. Torney! I am a racer at a local track and I agree 100%.

    • Avatar

      Some study should be done on how long it affects the system and restrict its use for that amount of time plus 20 percent of that length of time before being allowed on the track. The same could/should be said for any substance that causes diminished cognitive ability or drowsiness: opioids, seizure meds, antihistamines, benzos, etc.

    • Avatar

      They make a swab that detects the use of Marijuana or alcohol within the past 24 hours. This should be mandated everyday before on the track activity and let these guys do whatever they want at home. It’s that simple. What I did 3 days ago won’t effect my hand eye coordination or reflexes while making moves at high speed.

  9. Avatar

    While I support its legalization, I’m for NASCAR restricting drivers from using it. This is a dangerous sport where split seconds can mean the difference between life and death. Any substance that might negatively impact reaction time or dilute your better judgment is no go. Just look at the Tony Stewart-Kevin Ward situation. However, as it does get legallized, NASCAR will have to adjust its policies. You can’t bust a guy who enjoys it safely in their own home. Just like they don’t penalize drinking.

  10. Avatar

    Employers nationwide have been dropping marijuana from their drug screenings. When a big sponsor objects to the current policy including marijuana, NASCAR will pay heed. ALWAYS have, always will.

  11. Avatar

    The reason for banning any substance in NASCAR should be its effect on performance, not whether it is legal. And it should only relate to substances that are active in the driver’s system at the time he is in the race car. Alcohol is legal, but surely we don’t want drivers to drink just before (or during) a race. Same with THC, same with prescription meds that are performance-enhancing or performance-diminishing. That means testing immediately after a race and at no other time. For THC, it also means using something other than a urine test, since the metabolites of the drug will show up in urine for days or weeks after its psychoactive effects are gone. But NASCAR is too cheap to do anything with accuracy. That includes their mismanagement of car inspections and drug testing of drivers and crew members.

  12. Avatar

    So alcohol which is so much worse is ok, aderral which actually makes a person a better racer is ok but pot which simply makes you relaxed and hungry is bad? Typical US gov logic.