Source: The Australian Pubdate: Wed, 22 Jul 1998 Contact: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/ Authors: Andrew Ramsey and Brian Burke MARIJUANA 'A SOCIAL ISSUE' MARIJUANA should not be included on the Australian Football League list of banned substances even though five players have tested positive to the drug this year, according to the league's leading medical officer. Dr Hugh Seward, president of the AFL Medical Officers' Association, said that marijuana use was a social issue. "It's not a performance-enhancing substance," Dr Seward said. "If anything it would detract from athletic performance so it's not a concern from a cheating point of view." Professor Tim Stockwell, director of the National Centre for the Research of Drug Abuse in Perth, supported the AFL stand, claiming it was a moral issue. "It's a controversial issue, but cannabis is not performance enhancing," Professor Stockwell said. "If the AFL was to punish players who tested positive to marijuana would they consider banning players convicted of drunk driving, which is arguably more dangerous to the community." But the National Drugs and Research Centre said that the league decision not to take action against the players involved was wrong given that marijuana remained an illegal drug. "The AFL is sending out a very damaging message to young people that it's okay for some people to use marijuana but not okay for others, and it's a message that's happening more and more," NDRC spokesman Paul Dillon said. Marijuana is listed as a class three prohibited substance by the International Olympic Committee, which leaves individual sports federations to decide whether they want to test for it. An IOC task force was formed to consider whether marijuana should be banned in the wake of the positive test by Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati at the Winter Olympics in Japan. The AFL confirmed yesterday that five players, whose names and clubs were not released, had tested positive to cannabinoids in the latest round of screening conducted by the Australian Sports Drug Agency. A spokeswoman for the AFL said that compared with two positive tests in 1996 and one last year. The spokeswoman said that the AFL had no plans to include marijuana on its list of banned substances despite the latest results. "With the number of positive tests that have come, and looking at that in relation to its use in the general community, we don't see it as widespread use among AFL footballers," the spokeswoman said. Collingwood coach Tony Shaw said yesterday that he was opposed to players using marijuana, and described smoking the drug for recreational purposes as "totally unprofessional". The AFL Players Association included the question of whether the drug should be banned on a questionnaire circulated to members earlier this year. Results of the survey are expected to be known in September. - --- Checked-by: "Rich O'Grady"