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Steve Kerr says professional athletes should be able to use marijuana for pain relief

Kerr doesn’t believe the league should encourage painkilling drugs while banning marijuana.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said on a CSN Bay Area podcast on Friday that he “would hope” that the NBA will consider legalizing marijuana as a healthier pain reliever for players than drugs like Vicodin.

Kerr pointed to the inequality between the way pain pills are prescribed “like it’s no big deal” to professional athletes, while substances like marijuana remain illegal.

"Without being an expert on it, but I know enough, especially over the last couple of years having gone through my own bout with chronic pain, I know enough about this stuff. Vicodin is not good for you. It's not. It's way worse for you than pot," said Kerr, as transcribed by ESPN.

Kerr said he has tried marijuana after complications from back surgery two summers ago led to chronic pain and caused him to miss nearly three months to start last season. Medical marijuana has been legal in California for years, although Kerr admitted he didn’t know whether his use of the drug was fully supported by the NBA.

"A lot of research, a lot of advice from people, and I have no idea if I would, maybe I would have failed a drug test,” Kerr said. “But it was worth it because I'm searching for answers on pain. But I've tried painkillers and drugs of other kinds as well, and those have been worse. It's tricky."

On Saturday, Kerr addressed the issue in depth, starting by saying he was surprised it turned into a huge story and was disappointed that many national headlines focused on him smoking weed rather than the topic of pain relief.

“What is a very serious conversation about pain relief turns into a headline: Kerr Smokes Pot,” Kerr told Bleacher Report. “I guess that’s the world we live in.”

In particular in the Friday podcast, Kerr pointed out the hypocrisy of the NFL.

“If you're an NFL player in particular and you got lot of pain, I don't think there's any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin,” Kerr said. “And yet, athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it's Vitamin C, like it's no big deal. There's like this perception in our country that over-the-counter drugs are fine, but pot is bad. Now, I think that's changing. You're seeing that change in these laws that you're talking about in different states, including California. But I would just hope that sports leagues are able to look past the perception.”

It’s not just Vicodin — the NFL has a growing health crisis involving Toradol, a painkiller it has liberally prescribed for two decades without a clear idea of its long-term effects. Some NFL executives have expressed a willingness to rule back the league’s harsh weed penalties, but those changes haven’t happened yet.

In a 2014 interview with GQ, commissioner Adam Silver said the league’s belief is that marijuana would affect a player’s performance on the court. As such, he said, “It’s our strong preference that our players do not consume marijuana.”

Currently, the NBA doesn’t suspend players from the league until they test positive for marijuana for a third time. (The suspension is a five-game penalty, one Mitch McGary received this summer, for example.) However, Kerr doesn’t see the logic in listing marijuana as a banned substance at all, given what the league does allow and even prescribes.

"I know enough about this stuff,” Kerr said. “Vicodin is not good for you. It's not. It's way worse for you than pot.”