MMA fighters that also happen to be marijuana users can breathe a bit easier with a UFC executive like Marc Ratner around.

We’ve seen it happen all too often in recent months: a fighter fails a post-fight drug test for the inactive metabolized by-products of marijuana known as metabolites, and they are as strictly punished as though they had injected themselves with illegal steroids.

Eighteen states have decriminalized the drug in one form or another, and it is increasingly becoming an inconsistent issue for legally cleared users and fighters such as Nick Diaz and Matthew Riddle to be punished by an overseeing body for having traces of the drug in their system come fight time.

Ratner, the UFC’s Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, understands that times are changing when it comes to marijuana use, and he believes that it’s time for athletic commissions to change their stance as well.

Last week, Ratner stood before the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s Steroid and Drug Testing Advisory Panel to discuss a change in policy regarding the classification of marijuana and the consequences for fighters testing positive for marijuana metabolites.

According to Ratner, speaking with The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview, “the day has come where we cannot say at all that steroids and marijuana are the same and have the same penalties.”

“So I feel very strongly that they have to be treated separately,” he continued. “That is why I went there—just to bring that up. They’re going to take that under consideration. They’re having a panel with a former commissioner and a doctor, so I think they’re going to make some recommendations to the commission and this will certainly be part of the discussion.”

Dealing with commissions is nothing new to Ratner. He served as part of the Nevada State Athletic Commission for twenty years, becoming its Chief Inspector and then Executive Director, before leaving in 2006 to assume his current position with the UFC. In his time with the nation’s largest combat sports regulatory body, he was one of the people responsible for creating the NSAC’s current policy towards marijuana. And now, he’s one of the voices for change that can actually do something about it.

“We feel—and I feel—that performance-enhancing drugs is a lot different than having marijuana,” Ratner explained. “So, I think that’s the distinction that I’m certainly pushing for. If somebody is using performance-enhancing steroids, then I have no problem whatever the commission does.

“I think they’ve been pretty stringent on performance-enhancing drugs. I just want them to make sure there is a distinction. It’s something that has to be discussed, and I think that’s what they are going to do.”

His statements to the panel led many fans to wonder what to expect regarding a change in stance on marijuana. It was only a month ago that former UFC welterweight Riddle was flagged for his second failed test for marijuana metabolites after his split decision win at UFC on Fuel TV 7. Riddle was released by the UFC and had his win changed to a no-contest.

That was at an overseas event taking place in London, where the UFC was self-regulating in place of a commission. If the UFC is moving towards a softer stance, then doesn’t Riddle’s case seem a bit harsh?

According to Ratner, that is exactly why athletic commissions needs to move towards changing their policies in regards to marijuana, because the UFC is following their lead.

“Well, we only self-regulate a few fights, it seems like we’re doing more,” said Ratner. “We have a commission in Brazil now, a commission in Australia, and we’re hoping to have some stuff in England. But in our contracts, we say we will do what the state of Nevada does. That’s another reason why we have to get these changes—because we do feel strongly about it too.

“We’ve had a couple of guys that we told to go to rehab and just took them out for six months with no fines.”

Ratner is currently waiting to return to the panel within a month’s time to discuss his recommendations towards how they classify marijuana and what its penalties will be in regards to testing, so it is yet to be seen what will change.

Still, we only have to look at a recent case such as Nick Diaz’s year-long suspension following a positive result of metabolites after his UFC 143 fight with Carlos Condit for an idea of what sort of issues could be resolved with regard to Ratner’s recommended changes.

Diaz tested with 25 nanograms of marijuana metabolites in his system after the fight, which was above the NSAC’s standard limit of 15 nanograms. That is why he received punishment. So, wouldn’t a raise on the cap for the amount of nanograms of metabolites in a fighter’s system be something that could help to make cases like Diaz’s a non-issue?

“Yeah, I think that is certainly a possibility,” Ratner answered. “I cannot speak for what this panel will do. What you don’t want is somebody who smoked three weeks ago or two weeks ago testing positive, because there is nothing performance-enhancing. So I think that’s important.

“I’m not saying that they should be smoking right before they go out or the week of the fight—no. But I think that having it in your system—and they can tell by the nanograms and how close you smoked to [the fight]—it would certainly come into play. I think we have to be level-headed about this and make the right decision.”

The Diaz camp took the NSAC’s decision to court, but their case was tripped up by the issue of paperwork. Diaz had checked “no” on his physical examination form in answer to the question: “Have you taken/received any prescribed medications in the last two weeks?” That would mean that Diaz, if he smoked his prescription marijuana after the specified deadline, can be treated like any other fighter that fails a drug test for prescribed medication.

So then, would it be a matter of a fighter making sure to come prepared in the weeks leading up to a fight with all of their paperwork in order, holding a shiny government-issued medical marijuana card to prove they are allowed to use the drug? Actually, Ratner’s answer may surprise you.

“Whatever you do has to be for all fighters,” Ratner said. “They’re not going to make a special dispensation for medical marijuana. This will be the policy, and this is the way it will be in the state of Nevada, and we’ll honor it whenever we self-regulate.”

Since marijuana is gaining legality in more and more states, many would ask why commissions shouldn’t just remove the drug from a banned-substance list altogether.

“I’d have to study a lot more about it myself. I think that it’s certainly a possibility,” Ratner said. “But right now, it’s still there. So I don’t know if that will happen, but I just think there will be a differentiation and the penalties should be less.”

Still, some are not sure that marijuana isn’t a performance-enhancing drug.

After Diaz’s UFC 143 suspension, longtime UFC color commentator and outspoken marijuana advocate Joe Rogan weighed in with his opinion that marijuana is indeed a performance-enhancing drug. He argued that jiu-jitsu practitioners smoke marijuana to dull their pain while training, and that would make marijuana a PED by definition.

“I don’t know that to be a fact,” Ratner disagreed. “It seems to me that if you smoked and it’s three weeks ago or something, I don’t know how that can help you in a fight.”

It seems like common sense to anyone that has used marijuana that getting into a brutal fistfight in a cage is not going to be on their to-do list after toking up. It’s more likely that you will see them cheating on their diet at the Cheesecake Factory or logging into a Call of Duty server. If there are unfair advantages to be gained from smoking marijuana right before a fight, then please provide the evidence, because that has never been the issue. Instead, the issue is the recurring problem of fighters simply acting out there right to use marijuana and being punished for it.

More so, if a fighter has used marijuana in the weeks before a fight, then it makes no sense that they should be punished for a metabolized by-product in their system that has no bearing on their performance. And that is exactly why Ratner has decided to speak up to ensure that commissions move towards its acceptance the same way a little less than half of the United States has done.

“UFC is a promoter, and wherever we go, whatever the rules are in that state are what we adhere to,” said Ratner. “It’s a different time, and the world’s a little different now and it all comes into play.

“I respect the Nevada commission very much. I was a part of them in one form or another for 20 years. It wasn’t a big problem—we always had different people test positive for different things in my time—but it’s different now, and that’s why the commission has to change.”

Some might say that Ratner’s ideas are just rehashed talking points, and that change such as the universal acceptance of marijuana is not something that will be seen in our lifetime. While it’s true that change is a slow process—and painfully so for those that advocate for certain issues—it’s important to note that when a person like Ratner steps forward to do something about it, we move that much closer to creating a new norm.

It was only two years ago that the U.S. Military repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that discriminated against openly gay military service members. That was after the time when UFC bantamweight Liz Carmouche served as a Marine between 2004 and 2009. Like Riddle and Diaz, she had to endure ludicrous policy and discrimination, until the government decided that such notions had become outdated. It was an accepted standard for gay service people to be discriminated and abused by their fellow Marines, something Carmouche witnessed firsthand. Fast-forward to today and not only is she applauded for being the UFC’s first openly gay athlete and an out-of-the-closet veteran, but equal rights for marriage is the next frontier for the LGBT community, where it once was an out-of-reach possibility. It’s extremely unfortunate that she had to put up with it, but she did. And it’s a bittersweet consolation prize to know that people like her won’t have it as bad as she did going forward.

Likewise, it’s unfortunate that fighters waste the time put into an entire training camp when the outcome of their fight is overturned and they will be forced to sit out for an extended period of time with a suspension, not being able to earn a living in their chosen profession, based on outdated policies towards drug testing for a non-performance-enhancing drug like marijuana.

That’s why when Ratner spoke up last week for change, it was so refreshing for many to hear that maybe something will be done about it. Maybe government and policy can catch up with modern public opinion and common sense.

It’s yet to be seen if the NSAC will respond to his recommendations with progressive change, but Ratner should be applauded for taking steps in the right direction.

Photo: Marc Ratner (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.