NFL

Legal Look: Bell, Blount and pot in the NFL

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Eric Macramalla, Sports Legal Analyst
8/21/2014 6:28:26 PM
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Pittsburgh Steelers running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount were arrested Wednesday in Ross Township, Pennsylvania for marijuana possession. Bell was also charged with driving under the influence of marijuana (and not alcohol).
 
According to reports, a motorcycle cop smelled pot coming from their car, a black Camaro. After being pulled over for questioning, the officer found 20 grams of marijuana in the car. There was also a woman in the vehicle, and all three admitted the marijuana belonged to them.
 
So what now for Bell and Blount?

NFL Substance Abuse Policy

Pursuant to the NFL's Policy And Program For Substances Of Abuse  a first time offender faces a suspension of "up to" four regular season or post-season games for violations of law for substances not related to alcohol. Marijuana is one such substance.
 
The same policy provides that players are "subject to appropriate discipline as determined by the Commissioner" and "where appropriate, such discipline may include substantially longer suspensions."
 
So that means that a player could face up to a four game suspension for marijuana possession, although the Commissioner has the discretion to make the suspension longer.
 
With respect to a driving under the influence charge, the NFL imposes a two game fine but no suspension. While the league is looking to implement a new rule that would see a player suspended without pay for one game for a first-time DUI offence, for now it's just a monetary punishment.
 
Past Cases
 
The NFL's previous treatment of players under similar circumstances gives us a good sense of the likely punishment and time frame facing both Bell and Blount. Indeed, precedent is a valuable tool when seeking to determine the fate of these two players.
 
In November 2013, Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe was arrested for speeding and marijuana possession. The following April, Bowe pleaded guilty to lesser charges, including littering, and last week, was suspended by the NFL for one game.
 
In November 2012, San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle/tight end Demarcus Dobbs was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence and possession of marijuana. He was suspended by the NFL for one game in August 2013.
 
Bills linebacker Nigel Bradham was charged with marijuana possession after a traffic stop in August 2013. On July 30, 2014, the NFL suspended Bradham for one game.
 
In light of the NFL's Substance Abuse Policy and league precedent, expect to see both Bell and Blount suspended for one game. Bell will also get a two game fine for his DUI. As for timing, the league will wait until the legal case has concluded before imposing a punishment. So that buys the players time, and as a result, it would not be a surprise to only see them suspended for the first game of next season.
 
The Steelers do have the option of forcing Bell and Blount to sit a regular season game. Back in 2008, the team did just that with Santonio Holmes, suspending him one game for marijuana possession. While it's possible, it seems unlikely the Steelers will suspend Bell and Blount. The team starts the season playing the Cleveland Browns, and they probably don't want to play their division rivals without their top two running backs.

LeGarrette Blount Le'Veon Bell  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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