Milwaukee’s Sanders apologizes, but advocates for medical marijuana use

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Larry Sanders takes an elbow from the Rockets’ James Harden

CHICAGO – Larry Sanders, the Milwaukee Bucks center whose season has been as miserable due to injuries and off-court incidents as his team’s has been from losing, was suspended Friday for five games without pay for violating the NBA/NBPA anti-drug program.

But if it was up to Sanders, neither he nor any other player in the league would be penalized for smoking marijuana. While he said he would abide by the terms of the penalty, Sanders offered an enthusiastic defense of the drug for its medical benefits.

“It’s something I feel strongly about, just to let you know something personal about me,” the 6-foot-11 player told NBA.com and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel prior to the Bucks’ game against Chicago at United Center Friday. “I will deal with the consequences from it. It’s a banned substance in my league. But I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it.

“I know what it is if I’m going to use it. I study it and I know the benefits it has. In a lot of ways we’ve been deprived. You can’t really label it with so many other drugs that people can be addicted to and have so many negative effects on your body and your family and your relationships and impairment. This is not the same thing.”

Per terms of the league’s illegal substance policy and random testing procedures, Sanders’ suspension means he has failed three tests in his career. It is unclear when his five-game hiatus actually will begin; he has been sidelined since undergoing surgery for a right orbital fracture sustained Feb. 8 against Houston. Recently, Sanders said he was out for the rest of this season and the Bucks had listed him that way in media reports – that would push his suspension into the start of 2014-15.

The team released a statement expressing its disappointment in Sanders, and Bucks coach Larry Drew echoed it Friday evening. He said that losing Sanders at the start of next season, when the player and the team might have hoped for a clean slate, would be difficult.

“Sure it would be tough. He’s a guy we count on,” Drew said. “If it does happen to start next year, we’ll just have to deal with it.”

Expectations were high for Saunders as Milwaukee’s defensive anchor. He had been rewarded for his breakout 2012-13 performance (9.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.8 bpg) with a four-year, $44 million extension that kicks in next year. But he has played only 23 games, averaging 7.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.74 blocks and 25.4 minutes. He gained YouTube.com infamy for his involvement in a Milwaukee nightclub melee hours after playing poorly in the team’s home opener.

He returned in late December but struggled along with the Bucks, who were staking out the NBA’s basement in the standings. Sanders had only five games with 10 or more rebounds and only six with more than two blocked shots before suffering his facial injury in February.

Saunders also issued a statement Friday apologizing to fans and taking responsibility for his actions. He said he didn’t think the suspension, if it comes at the beginning of next season, would mar what he, too, hopes is a fresh start.

“Yeah I could [overcome that],” he said. “The recipe doesn’t change. It’s just more motivation to work harder. It’s something negative to deal with. But the recipe doesn’t change for me. I’m just as excited for the summer.”

Marijuana use, still illegal in the U.S. with the exception of Colorado and Washington, has gained supporters in recent months. Sanders said he understands that it is prohibited by the NBA and the players union, which have talked of strengthening their combined anti-drug program rather than easing it. He apologized for this latest incident’s impact on his teammates but said he does not believe marijuana use is wrong.

“The stigma is that it’s illegal. I hate that,” Sanders said. “Once this becomes legal, this all will go away.”

Sanders said that, in terms of social use, he sees smoking marijuana as similar to drinking alcoholic beverages. But his primary defense of the drug was for medical use.

“The great thing about that idea is that, then you could get prescribed for it and see a doctor and they could tell you,” he said. “You don’t have to self-medicate, you don’t have to over-medicate ourselves. Y’know, because we don’t know now. We can’t diagnose ourselves.

“Once it becomes legal … you sit down with a doctor and [he says], ‘You may need this three times a day. This dosage here.’ And you don’t over-medicate. It [addresses] those needs medically that you need. It’s natural.”

The Bucks said they would have no comment beyond their issued statement (“Larry Sanders has a responsibility to every person in our organization and our fans. We are all disappointed by the news of his suspension.”).

An NBA spokesperson, contacted for reaction to Sanders’ defense of marijuana use, declined to comment Friday night.

18 Comments

  1. 3rd world bball fan says:

    Over-paid and under-educated …last person in the world who should be a THC spokesperson

  2. sports fan says:

    Testing injured playes is understandable since steroids are used to increase recovery rates but healthy players should be tested as well. But we all know that the superstars will never get tested. And if the whole league was tested then we’d see a lot of players test positive. In the case of marijuana everyone knows that it’s not a performance enhancing drug.

  3. i always thought jr smith would be the one leading the way

  4. Rick Simpson School says:

    Medical marijuana is best received by our bodies when ingested in form of an extract known as Hemp Oil. It is famous for dealing with many diseases and minimising the side effects of steroids. For more information, please look up for Rick Simpson, the documentary “Run From The Cure” and youtube for related videos and information.

  5. Dr. Dillion Burke says:

    “My advice* to Saunders* would* be…” You hold 3 errors in your first five words. I’d point out the rest of your mistakes but ain’t no one got time for that! You are too stupid to give an input or even use marijuana. Please keep your uneducated filth off articles pertaining to subjects you have no knowledge in. -Dr.DB, Denver Care Family Practice. P.S. Due to these laws placed within the organization, some players can’t even play due to medical conditions that marijuana would cure i.e..Royce White.

  6. Unkle Daddy says:

    Another pothead trying to convince people of all the good pot can do, it has the same reaction inside your body as alcohol, it slows down thought process and motor function, how you gonna be high three times a day and practice and play when your timing is off, dummy.

  7. Fred nemry says:

    No justification for the use of marijuana under any circumstance and definitely it will be mis used , he is an athlete and for him to reflect these ideas is just wrong a lot of kids look up to him.

  8. Scott says:

    People dont even smoke anymore. They vape or eat.

  9. boston says:

    yessssssss we need to see more of this. athletes smoking weed its a perfect example that you can smoke weed and be successful. not all weed smokers are idiots just the few that just want to smoke weed all day and not work or do anything else those are the losers

  10. bbmichal says:

    So is this blog reporting that the NBA randomly drug tests injured players? What about the healthy ones?

  11. Jason says:

    Pot heads are annoying. All they do is get high sit on their couch and watch family guy all day

  12. Author says:

    Might want to spell check the last name in the article. I counted at least two “Saunders”

  13. Stradio says:

    It’s fantastic that people from all walks of life are beginning to see how silly the criminalization of this substance really is. People are grasping at straws to continue justifying their crusades against this essentially harmless plant and meanwhile alcohol directly kills millions every year.

  14. okc2014 says:

    Really Saunders?

  15. Will says:

    He is right though.

  16. kay bee says:

    My advise to Sanders will be to not waste the opportunity God has given you because if you do, you will look back and regret a lot of things. We are all human and have certain things we wish we could do without restrictions but that is why laws are enforced within organizations to ensure harmony and progress. Please choose your steps wisely because you are turning out to be a disappointment for some of us who cherished your humble beginnings.

    • Scott T says:

      He would argue that his use helps him in realizing his potential by easing the pain that comes with an NBA career and speeding recovery… And I would agree with him.