In yet another example of how common marijuana use is among pro football players, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Deonte Thompson was arrested in late February and charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
Police in Gainesville, Fla., stopped a Chevrolet SUV shortly before midnight Feb. 21 and “noticed a strong odor of burned cannabis” coming from the car, according to the Gainesville Police Department. Thompson was a passenger in the vehicle.
While searching the SUV, police found 29 grams of pot in plastic bags inside a duffel bag. Thompson told the officers the bag was his, but Alvon Summerall, the driver, and Erskine J. McKinley, another passenger, said the drugs belonged to them.
The amount of weed involved could create a real legal problem for Thompson. Though it’s almost exactly an ounce, it’s more than the cutoff point for simple possession in Florida. Possession of 20 grams or less is a misdemeanor, but possession of more than 20 grams is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. As of Feb. 22, bond had been set at $7,000.
Thompson also faces potentially severe punishment from the NFL. The league has a notoriously stringent zero tolerance policy toward cannabis use, even though an estimated 50 percent of players use marijuana – many of them to treat chronic pain. League officials will now review his case under the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
“We are aware of the situation,” said Ravens team spokesman Chad Steele. “We are gathering more facts. There are two sides to every story.”
Thompson, who grew up in Florida and played for the Gators, joined the Ravens in 2012 as an undrafted free agent. He is known for his speed, but he hasn’t developed into a star receiver. He caught 10 passes for 96 yards in 2013, with no touchdowns.
He’s hardly the first pro football player to run into legal trouble with marijuana. In January, Tampa Bay defensive lineman Akeem Spense was arrested for possession in Alabama. Another eight players were busted last year.
Legal penalties are bad enough, but players with big salaries can easily pay big fines and spend a few days in jail. The penalties handed down by the league are another matter.
Violation of a urine test can mean suspension from one game, multiple games or, in the case of someone like retired running back Ricky Williams, an entire season. That can mean enormous amounts of lost revenue, enough to seriously damage a player’s career.
NFL officials have said they’re open to the possibility of medical marijuana use by players. But for the time being, players like Thompson have a steep hill to climb.