When you have a drug problem, an important first step toward recovery is to stop living in denial.
And make no mistake: The Nevada Athletic Commission has a problem with drugs, at least when it comes to meting out punishment in a rapidly changing world.
The big question is whether its members are really willing to admit they have a problem and make the needed changes in a timely manner. You know, before the commission again embarrasses itself by using a meat ax instead of a scalpel to address the issue of positive drug tests and fighters.
I listened Friday as members of the NAC addressed several banned-substance issues on their agenda, and came away with a split decision.
The meeting was punctuated by the remarkable rollback of fighter Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s draconian $900,000 fine for testing positive for marijuana to a less onerous $100,000.
Through his attorneys Donald Campbell and Colby Williams, who worked with NAC Chairman Bill Brady and Deputy Attorney General Vivienne Rakowsky to carve out a compromise and avoid litigation, Chavez can cut a check and continue his boxing career. He tested positive for marijuana metabolites after his Sept. 15, 2012, fight at the MGM Grand against Sergio Martinez. He admitted smoking pot eight or nine days before the fight, and the positive test counted as a second offense.
In other news, the Nevada Legislature this year continued to follow other states and march closer to pot legalization by further defining the state’s medical marijuana law.
Get the picture?
Nevada is more than a little schizophrenic on this issue.
The commission’s change of heart comes in the wake of a change in marijuana policy by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), given as the key reason for reducing Chavez’s fine.
Brady said the adjustment was “primarily due to WADA’s recently amended standards for the marijuana metabolite.”
That sounds downright reasonable.
But Campbell and Williams were also prepared to argue that the whopping $900,000 fine their client received amounted to a violation of his constitutional rights. The Eighth Amendment bans excessive fines, and in a world in which marijuana smoking is steadily gaining legal acceptance, a $900,000 fine for pot smoking would be impossible to reasonably defend in a civil action.
“To their credit, I think they realized the amount of the fine, even before the WADA announcement, was such that it was going to be extremely problematic from a constitutional viewpoint,” Campbell said.
The Chavez case raised other compelling issues about how the NAC conducts its business, including its use of an arguably substandard pre-fight medical questionnaire written only in English. Brady said the commission is willing to study ways to improve its process.
“I think you saw the feelings of the commission on this issue, reducing the fine from $900,000 to $100,000,” Brady said. “We felt it was time to limit our penalties on that. We follow WADA on all of their prohibited substances, and marijuana is still on their list of prohibited substances.”
The commission has ordered a review of its drug policies. Brady predicted the pot punishment will be relaxed. Really, really relaxed.
He offered, “I think what you’re going to see is a real reduction in the penalties on marijuana … somewhere along the level of just alcohol. Very few people, if any, will be coming before us in the future with any penalties on marijuana just because of where the (new WADA) cutoff is.”
Whether by way of medical enlightenment, or with the help of a little legal arm-twisting, the NAC members have taken the first step and now seem willing to change their policies with the times.
At the risk of sounding like a two-bit ringside prognosticator, I’m betting their work is just beginning.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at email@example.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.