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An Auburn walk-on’s family says NCAA rules make him ineligible because he uses cannabis oil to treat seizures

The player has epilepsy.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

C.J. Harris was slated to play this season as a preferred walk-on defensive back for Auburn. Harris has a history of seizures due to epilepsy, he says, and treats them with prescribed cannabis oil. Now he’s not slated to play for Auburn anymore.

WGXA reports that Harris started taking the cannabis oil in January 2017, after he had a fourth seizure. Harris received his epilepsy diagnosis when he was a high school sophomore and apparently struggled with them until he started using the oil. Then, they stopped.

Harris’ family says he can’t play at Auburn because of NCAA rules. Another report says it’s because of his epilepsy, not because of how he treats it.

247Sports reports that Auburn rescinded the offer of a roster spot to Harris because its medical staff “was concerned about the epilepsy and wanted to protect his well being in a full-contact sport that could lead to head trauma.”

But as long as Harris uses the cannabis oil, the logistics of how he lost his spot on Auburn’s roster might be immaterial.

Marijuana is a banned substance under NCAA rules, and players are subject to NCAA drug tests. If a player tests positive for the cannabinoid THC, he loses half his remaining eligibility, according to an NCAA presentation to players. Some snippets from that presentation offer insight into how the NCAA frames discussions about weed:

The NCAA has exceptions to its drug policy for players who use specific drugs for medical reasons. But it classifies marijuana as an illicit drug and doesn’t have a medical exception for its use.

All of the major leagues continue to have policies against marijuana, though they’re enforced with varying rigor. Some of the world’s best athletes use weed to keep themselves feeling healthy as they compete.

Auburn, not the NCAA, informed Harris’ family that he couldn’t play while using the oil, according to the initial report by WGXA:

A few weeks ago, after Auburn coaches and staff took a second look at his medical records, they told Harris’ father Curtis that his son could not compete in NCAA athletics while he was taking cannabis oil.

Curtis said telling his son he couldn’t play college football was “the hardest thing I’ve done.” He compared it to the conversation his father had with him at the age of 6, when his father told him and his sister that their mother had passed away.

”You’re taking something away from a kid who’s worked so hard in his life to get there,” Curtis said. “And you’re just taking it away because he’s taking a medication that’s helping with his disability.”

Athletic departments often have their own rules against marijuana use. Auburn does. Schools can administer their own tests on top of the NCAA’s, too.

The NCAA’s Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports has “discussed medical marijuana and CBD products at recent meetings,” an NCAA spokesman wrote to SB Nation. He said he expected the issue would be on the agenda when the group meets again in June.