By: Jasyn Zangari

Yes, you read that correctly. Following his very public, and long drawn out, appearance in front of the Nevada StateAthletic Commission (NSAC) on September 14, Nick Diaz walked away with quite possibly the harshest penalty ever given by a governing body of mixed martial arts. Hit with a 5 year suspension from the state and a fine of $165,000, the internet essentially went on the warpath, looking for “justice” for the fallen Stockton fighter. But what many have seemed to miss here is simply that what Diaz received was almost perfect for someone in his position.

Go back to May 15, 2015. ESPN’s Brett Okamoto tweeted out a revised guideline for the new penalties in the state of Nevada for drug testing violations. This plan was similar to the current UFC/USADA plan, implemented in July of this year. Here is a picture of the updated Nevada rules courtesy of Okamoto’s Twitter page:


Now looking at this revised list, you will see the punishments for Sedatives, Muscle Relaxants, Sleep Aids, Anxiolytics, Opiates and Cannabis, which say:

1st offense: 18 months, 30-40% of purse (from 9 months/20-30%)

2nd offense: 24 months, 40-50% of purse (from 12 months/40-50%)

3rd offense: 36 months, 60-75% of purse (from 24 months/60-75%)

4th offense: LIFE, 100% of purse  

As the memo also states, “the penalties below are guidelines only. Each alleged violation will continue to be examined on a case-by-case basis, and the penalties imposed will be based on the totality of the circumstances presented at the disciplinary hearing. These guidelines will be used as a starting point. The ultimate penalty may be either greater or lesser than these penalty guidelines. These penalty guidelines should be published and publicized.”

Diaz, obviously, falls into the 3rd offense category. His 1st offense took place in 2007, being flagged for marijuana during his bout with Takanori Gomi under the Pride banner. Diaz was suspended for 6 months and fined $3000, 20% of his purse. The second positive test for marijuana took place in 2012, resulting in a 1 year suspension and 30% of his purse following his UFC 143 bout against Carlos Condit.

Some at the time considered Diaz’s 2nd suspension too harsh, considering Alistair Overeem only received 9 months for a T/E ratio of 14:1, but this was Diaz’s second offense in the state, so a harsher penalty was expected. But how do you go from 1 year and 30% to 5 years and 33% for the same offense in the same state? That’s simple, tougher rules on banned substances are now in place

Around the same time Nevada proposed the previously mentioned changes, the UFC/USADA partnership was announced. The USADA was not only brought in to conduct more stringent drug testing, but would also set the foundation for new “UFC imposed” penalties for violations of the policy. These penalties can be found here:

Punishments for specified substances include:

First offense: Two years with the possibility of two additional years for “aggravating circumstances,” which include previous drug failures, egregious intent, conspiracy with others, multiple substances, and other factors.

Second offense: double the sanction of first offense.

Third offense: double sanction of second offense.

Punishments for non-specified substances include:

First offense: One year with the possibility of two additional years for “aggravating circumstances,” which include previous drug failures, egregious intent, conspiracy with others, multiple substances, and other factors.

Second offense: double the sanction of first offense.

Third offense: double sanction of second offense.

Also included are loss of ranking, world titles, and varying purse fines. These punishments, while not as strong as the NSAC’s, are still incredibly punishing and a large gap from the old punishments handed out by the UFC, which generally followed the lead of the NSAC. However, while the UFC/USADA plan was announced to begin in July, the NSAC policies were at least discussed in May, but implemented on September 1st. On the other hand, the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) implemented their new punishments almost immediately, as shown by suspensions handed out to first time offenders Alexander Shlemenko (3 years) and Mike Richman (2 years). But this is where things become tricky.

If anyone watched the Anderson Silva hearing in front of the NSAC, they will surely remember numerous commission members referencing the the fact that Silva was lucky to be in front of the commission when he was, and not in a month or so. This was a reference to the new state guidelines under which Diaz was punished. Silva and Diaz were both accused of violating drug policies following the same UFC 183 bout, and while both did postpone their appearances in front of the commission, Silva made his before the new guidelines were put into place, while Diaz obviously appeared after. Never once did any commission member say that punishments and hearings would be retroactive, it was the date you appeared in front of them to have your fate decided. How Diaz and his team did not know this is a fact that seems to be either lost, or ignored, by people claiming this injustice. Using this as an excuse for Diaz is basically laughable.

Had Silva appeared after September 1st, his punishment, under NSAC minimum guidelines, would have been 36 months and 50-70% of his purse. This number is almost on par for what the minimum punishment is for a 3rd time marijuana user, so to say Silva got off light, while true, is misguided. He received the typical suspension for a first time offender under the old rules, but his punishment could have matched Diaz’s had he appeared after September 1st.

But despite any number or figures posted here, the true issue comes down to one thing and one thing only: people’s reluctance to consider marijuana as a PED. Problem is, it is not classified truly as a PED, just a banned substance.Essentially every sport in the world has a list of banned substances, PED or otherwise, and marijuana is listed in all of them. Whether or not you agree that marijuana is harmful, helpful or anything else, has no bearing to the fact that in professional mixed martial arts, it is a banned substance. Use of this substance during competition will result in a possible suspension and fine, such as Diaz and others have received in the past.

The IOC, perhaps the world’s largest governing body of sports, lists marijuana in the Narcotics and Cannabinoids category, along with substances such as Morphine, Methadone, Oxycodone, Fentanyl, and others. According to the IOC and WADA, which conducts testing for Olympic events, the cannabis products marijuana and hashish are included due to their cannabinoid content. Narcotic analgesics are prohibited for their ability to decrease the sensation of serious injuries and allowing athletes to train while dealing with these injuries. If a professional MMA fighter entered the cage with any level of Morphine or Oxycodone in their system, people would be outraged over the use, so why is marijuana somehow ok? For years, the marijuana supporters have made it very known that smoking weed can help decrease pain in chronic disease or injury sufferers and is helpful to many in this regard. If you agree marijuana is a sort of “miracle” drug for pain, then in essence, you are acknowledging why it is a bannedsubstance. To the MMA governing bodies, it is considered a pain killer.

The full WADA list of banned substances can be found here:

But even the same NSAC who imposed the suspension on Diaz eased off the peddle some in regards to marijuana in 2013. For years, the allowed levels of marijuana or marijuana metabolites in Nevada was 50ng/mL, but following a similar change from WADA, Nevada followed suit and raised the allowed limits to 150 ng/mL, a 300% increase. So to say Nevada has a grudge against marijuana or marijuana user just isn’t the case. Most of the rules in the NSAC are carbon copies from the IOC and WADA, and now includes the UFC/USADA, so if you want to blame someone for the “ridiculous” rules on marijuana in sports, head over to the WADA webpage and voice your opinion. While you are there, head over the to US Federal Govt. page and the Nevada State page as well, as both of them also consider marijuana illegal.

Perhaps the saddest part of all of this, however, is that Diaz is well aware that marijuana is illegal in competition, yet still continues to take this risk. Prior to his Strikeforce bout versus Frank Shamrock in 2009, Diaz was quoted as saying in a Los Angeles Times interview:

“I’m more consistent about everything being a cannabis user. I’m happy to get loaded, hear some good music . . . I remain consistent. And I have an easy way to deal with [the drug tests]. I can pass a drug test in eight days with herbal cleansers. I drink 10 pounds of water and sweat out 10 pounds of water every day. I’ll be fine.”

In the same interview, it quotes former NSAC head Keith Kizer as saying “The drug is banned because of the damage it does to the person taking it. It could make you lethargic, slow your reflexes, and those are dangerous things in a combat sport.” and also references the Gomi bout in 2007, quoting an NSAC official as saying Diaz’s use of marijuana against Gomi numbed him to pain in the bout due to excessive amounts of marijuana in his system.

Due to face Joe “Diesel” Riggs, and then Jay Hieron, on the Strikeforce: Cyborg vs. Carano card in August of 2009, Diaz was unable to obtain a license in the state of California for refusing to take part in a pre-fight drug test. With only an assumption here, Diaz was aware that he would not pass said test so decided to scrap the fight altogether and avoid the penalty that would have been imposed.

If Diaz is aware that marijuana is banned in competition, then his argument that “it’s not a big deal, it’s just weed” is invalid. He can believe it is not a big deal, but he knows very well that to the governing bodies, it is. Assuming he would compete 2 times in any given year, all he would have to do is simply stop smoking marijuana for about 14-17 days total to pass the needed drug tests. As we saw with Jon Jones, drugs such as cocaine and marijuana are not banned out of competition, so no one is saying Diaz cannot smoke marijuana here. What is being said is that you cannot compete with it in your system.

The one saving grace here for Diaz and his supporters though is not the actually penalty he was given, but the precedence set by the NSAC here. While it is written that the minimum penalties are only a guideline, to impose such as harsh penalty from the get go leaves them in a very tenuous position moving forward. When a 1st or 2nd time offender for any drug appears in front of the commission now, it will almost be expected that the penalty given will be higher than the set minimums. The chances that we see another fighter in front of the NSAC for a 3rd marijuana offense is slim, perhaps Matthew Riddle besides Diaz, but if this is such a rare case, then why impose such a harsh penalty off the bat? Most new penalties for other banned substances such as steroids or diuretics are a step back from the marijuana penalties, ie 1st offense for steroid resembles the 2nd for marijuana, with 3 failed tests resulting in a lifetime ban (4 for marijuana).

In closing, was the NSAC to harsh on Diaz? Possibly, but they did not end Nick Diaz’s career, Diaz did. Diaz made the choice to smoke marijuana as a professional fighter and knew the consequences that may stem from his actions. Diaz does not deserve to be free, hashtag reference, for a 3rd violation of a rule he is well aware of because people may feel marijuana isn’t “that bad”. He deserves to be punished, as he was, but just not to the extent he was.


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