Former NFL Player Works To Change Marijuana Laws 

Former NFL Player Works To Change Marijuana Laws 
Posted by CN Staff on May 07, 2003 at 09:55:21 PT
By Michael O'Keeffe
New York -- Mark Stepnoski was an All-American at Pitt for his performance on the football field and an Academic All-American for his work in the classroom. He was a five-time Pro Bowl lineman who won two Super Bowl rings with the Cowboys and punched open many of the holes Emmitt Smith ran through on his way to the NFL's all-time rushing record. He also smokes dope. 
Cops and counselors say one reason to wage war on marijuana is that it robs kids of their motivation. But Stepnoski was one of the NFL's premier centers for 13 years (Cowboys and Oilers), even though he had been smoking marijuana regularly since high school. A handful of celebrities - including singer Willie Nelson, talk-show host Bill Maher, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson - are also active in NORML, but Allen St. Pierre, the group's executive director, says Stepnoski is the first pro athlete from a mainstream sport to join the cause. Many have expressed support, he says, but fear their careers will suffer or they'll be targeted by authorities. "If there is one thing that is stopping people from speaking out, it's the fear of greater scrutiny," he says. "It's not just the police. It's the IRS. People don't want to give up everything they've worked for just because they believe marijuana laws should be changed." Stepnoski hasn't been targeted for his work with NORML, but he has become a hit with its members. A recent E-mail fund-raising appeal that featured Stepnoski was the most successful in NORML's history, St. Pierre says. "Bigger than the ones that featured Maher or Willie," he says. "People really wanted to congratulate him for his courage in speaking out." Stepnoski's new job is working to stop Americans from going to prison for smoking a substance that has already been decriminalized in Western Europe, Canada, Australia and some states (offenders get a ticket rather than being arrested). He is even paying the bill for NORML's lobbyist in Austin - he estimates the cost at about $15,000 - and serves on its national advisory board. Stepnoski spent much of this legislative session lobbying to lessen the penalty for pot possession in the Lone Star State. Currently, possession of two ounces or less is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine up to $2,000; the bill, which has been stuck in committee, would make possession of one ounce or less punishable by a $500 fine. "We're trying to get marijuana reclassified so people can pay a ticket instead of going to jail," says Stepnoski. "The punishment doesn't fit the crime." Marijuana is definitely not for everybody, says Stepnoski, who saw the dark side of drugs as a mainstay of the rock `n' roll Cowboys of the '90s. Teammate Michael Irvin, a regular at the Cowboys' infamous "White House" party scene, was convicted in 1996 on felony drug charges. Another, Mark Tuinei, died from a heroin overdose in 1999. Nate Newton, meanwhile, is in prison after convictions for transporting large amounts of marijuana. But Stepnoski believes laws that make pot a felony are more dangerous than pot itself, and when used responsibly, marijuana is no more problematic than alcohol. "The vast majority of people who use it are responsible adults," Stepnoski says. Stepnoski first tried marijuana during his high school days in Erie, Pa., and he continued to smoke pot through his football career, abstaining the day before games to keep his mental edge. He says he also smoked pot to take the edge off a brutal sport. "After a game you need something to relax," he says. "I'd rather smoke than take painkillers."  Docs: Steroids are worseMarijuana is bad for sports, but not as bad as steroids, according to a group of doctors working on a standardized banned substance list for the 2004 Olympics. The panel of doctors affiliated with the World Anti-Doping Agency that met in Lausanne, Switzerland, this weekend recommended that marijuana be considered a "specified substance," which means less severe penalties than performance-enhancers such as steroids or amphetamines. Some sports, including skiing and snowboarding, gymnastics and diving, currently impose the stiffer performance-enhancing penalties on their athletes, saying they use pot to help focus and calm nerves. The proposed penalties for athletes who test positive for marijuana range from a warning to a one-year suspension for the first offense. A second violation under the new rules brings a two-year suspension. The first-time penalty for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs is a two-year suspension. "Some people will say we went easy on marijuana, but we did not," says Long Island physician Gary Wadler, a member of the WADA panel and an NYU professor. "We have spent two years off and on discussing this issue. This was not capricious or willy-nilly." The proposed rules won't do much for snowboarder Tara Zwink, who tested positive for pot in January and got the harsher two-year suspension currently in place for her sport. Wadler says the new rules won't be retroactive. WADA is instituting a global anti-doping policy that includes uniform testing procedures and punishments. If the panel's recommendations are approved by the WADA executive board in September, they will go into effect in January. Source: (NC)Author: Michael O'Keeffe, New York Daily NewsPublished: May 7, 2003Copyright: 2003 Contact: uteditor Website: Articles & Web Sites:NORML NORML More Jocks Turn To Marijuana for Liberty - Reason Magazine
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