Should Georgia stay tough on marijuana use?

Georgia football-UGA-Riley Ridley
It still appears unlikely that Riley Ridley will be available to play against Appalachian State in the season opener this fall.

ATHENS — You want to make a Georgia football player uncomfortable? Ask him what he thinks about the athletic department’s pot policy.

“I don’t have anything to say about it,” senior offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn said, smiling as he quickly backpedaled from the question. “It’s not affecting me so it has nothing to do with me.”

That wasn’t my intention, to make any of these guys feel uncomfortable. But I was curious to find out how some of these young men really feel about UGA’s marijuana-use policy for student-athletes. It remains one of the toughest in the SEC.

Georgia receiver Riley Ridley is finding that out right now. The rising sophomore was busted for misdemeanor possession on the last day of spring break. He was the passenger in a car in which the driver was pulled over for rolling through a stop. The cop smelled pot, Ridley said there was some in the car and it was his.

According to UGA’s internal policy, a first violation of the code results in a suspension from 10 percent of competition dates, plus drug and alcohol awareness training and other punitive measures. A second infraction means a multiple-game suspension and a third is dismissal from the team.

It’s easily summed up in a few words: Don’t do it. And that’s for all sports, not just football.

Georgia lost Chauncey Rivers, a very good football player by all accounts, as a result of this doctrine 11 months ago.

And that’s understandable. Marijuana use is, after all, against the law in our state. But that’s where it enters into a little bit of a gray area these days.

The use of medical marijuana is now legal in 26 of our country’s 50 states, according to Three other states have recently passed measures that indicate they’ll soon join that number. Recreational use has already been passed in California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada and is on the docket at some others.

Based on the current trend, it would seem just a matter of time before it’s legal in some form or another across the country. It might take a while, but eventually that could include Georgia.

Regardless, it’s likely that the Georgia’s internal policy will remain in place well after. That’s been the case in Colorado, where marijuana has been legalized and is being sold in stores on the corner of every city street, it seems.

I checked in with Kelly Lyell, who covers Colorado State for The Coloradoan. Sure enough, he said marijuana use by CSU athletes is not tolerated, that they are tested for it regularly and are punished for using it.

Interestingly, this has led to at least one player quitting the team, he told me. A former running back by the name of Treyous Jarrells, 23, left the Colorado State early in the 2015 season due to concerns, according to a profile done by The Coloradoan. He claimed to use it to relieve the chronic pain from 16 years of playing football.

That actually makes a little sense. How it compares to Advil, we’re not told. But Jarrells claims it’s safer than athletic-department administered opiates.

Of course, you won’t hear any of the Bulldogs championing the use of marijuana, for pain relief or any other purpose. Nor will you hear them complain about UGA’s policy. While the recreational use is certainly commonplace among some college students, they say they’re held to a different standard.

And that, they add, is OK.

“Whatever the regulations and guidelines at UGA are, basically that’s what we’re going to abide by,” said linebacker Natrez Patrick, a junior who along with teammate Roquan Smith avoided suspension after being accused of smoking pot last fall. “No matter what the laws are, no matter what everybody else thinks, whatever Coach Smart wants in place, that’s what we’re going to abide by, period. Opinions, expectations, they don’t matter. I follow the head man; whatever he wants, that’s how we’re going to do it.”

Said rising senior Lorenzo Carter: “It doesn’t matter what the law is or how we feel about it. We’re identified as Georgia athletes and that comes with certain responsibilities and we’re expected to conduct ourselves accordingly.”

All SEC schools punish their athletes for marijuana use. The majority, however, don’t suspend players for a first offense. Some fans interpreted a comment head coach Kirby Smart made last week regarding Ridley’s situation as a possibility the wide receiver could avoid suspension.

“He’ll receive discipline,” Smart said. “We’ll have internal discipline.”

“Internal discipline,” some reasoned, might mean Smart will punish Ridley by having him run steps at the stadium or attend what they used to call some “sunrise services” with the strength and conditioning coaches. So far, Smart hasn’t expounded.

But keep in mind, Georgia’s policy is a department-wide and encompasses all student-athletes in all sports. It’s pretty straight forward. So unless Ridley’s misdemeanor marijuana possession charge gets dismissed — a possibility, I suppose — I don’t see him playing in the season opener against Appalachian State.

“We do not condone that behavior,” Smart said of marijuana usage. “I think Riley is going to learn a valuable lesson from this mistake.”

How Ridley or Georgia’s players really feel about that, well, we’ll probably never know. And that’s OK.

UGA News