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Originally published November 26, 2013 at 8:04 PM | Page modified November 26, 2013 at 10:04 PM

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Got pot? Don’t get Seahawked

It doesn’t matter that voters made marijuana legal here. Anyone can still be Seahawked: fired or suspended from their jobs just for partaking.


Seattle Times staff columnist

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Mike Subit first heard about our Seahawks’ pot troubles the old-school Seattle way: from his fishmonger.

“I was down at the Market and they were saying: ‘Man, it was just pot! Did you know you can still lose your job over pot?’ ” Subit said the other day.

Yes, Subit knows. He’s a Seattle employment-law attorney who has represented people in the same predicament as Seahawks cornerbacks Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner: suspended or fired from their jobs for smoking pot. Even though it’s legal here and using it had no apparent effect on their work.

“It’s crazy, but it doesn’t matter that it’s legal now. You can still be fired for it,” Subit says.

Thurmond was suspended for four games — one month of work. Browner is up for “banishment” for a year, because in the past he has also used performance-enhancing drugs.

There’s no question the National Football League has the right to do this even though marijuana has been legal here for nearly a year. Subit says any other employer with a workplace drug-testing policy can, too — and that’s most of the larger ones.

Subit represented a Kitsap County soccer mom who used vaporized pot to relieve severe neck pain. Despite authorization from her doctor, despite telling her employer in advance and despite medical pot’s being legal here since 1999, she was fired from TeleTech call center in Bremerton anyway. Her case went to the state Supreme Court, where she lost.

“So many people sit there at work, high on their pain pills. And I get fired for this,” she said at the time.

The Seahawks’ case is not as insane as that. These players knew the rules, or should have, as both had broken them previously. But the rules are absurd just the same.

Seriously, NFL: You sweep brain injuries under the rug for years. But on this you go all Inspector Javert?

A couple of NFL players were caught delivering repeated blows to the heads of defenseless receivers earlier this month. For one it was his fourth head-targeting violation. His suspension: one game.

In another incident, a linebacker ripped the helmet off an opponent and then head-butted that player’s bare head with his own helmeted head. His suspension? Also one game.

So we know smoking pot is four times more grievous than any of that.

I asked the NFL what rationale there is for their pot policy in states like ours where voters have concluded pot is basically like beer or wine.

“It is viewed by the league and Players Association as part of a shared responsibility to protect player health,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. “Substance abuse is a serious matter.”

Agreed, but the players can be suspended just for testing positive — hardly proof of abuse.

We don’t know the extent of the pot use (neither the league nor the team will say). But they didn’t commit any crimes. Or mess up on the field. Or operate heavy machinery.

So what, exactly, are they being punished for? Bad moral character?

“Pot is not likely to enhance your play,” Subit said. “So I have to think this is some outdated image-protection effort by the NFL.”

Yes, and the favorites to meet in the Super Bowl are Denver and Seattle — the two teams from the two states where pot is legal.

I guarantee if that happens, the pot-legalization movement will show up there in force to highlight just how outdated that policy has become.

Meanwhile, even when government-sanctioned shops begin selling pot to the public here next year, that’s still no protection against being Seahawked: suspended or fired from your job just for partaking.

“It seems ridiculous, but that’s where we stand,” Subit says. “I think 10 years from now we will no longer be having this conversation. But that’s too late for them.”

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com



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About Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to dwestneat@seattletimes.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
dwestneat@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2086

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