Just a few months ago, in February, boxer Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. was fined $900,000 by the Nevada state athletic commission after testing positive for marijuana. That whopping total -- the largest fine ever handed out by NSAC -- was 30 percent of his $3 million purse.
As it turned out, the severity of the punishment became one of few things in life that longtime adversaries Bob Arum and Dana White could agree on. The boxing promoter didn't mince words. In an interview with ESPN, he called it "extortion." The UFC president was similarly harsh. After hearing the fine, he tweeted, "The NSAC has officially lost its mind!"
That brings us to what happened on Tuesday, when Pat Healy announced that he'd been disciplined for failing a drug test. Healy admitted that he'd used marijuana, and took the high road (no pun intended) in saying he stands behind the disciplinary actions of the UFC and the New Jersey state athletic control board.
Healy's penalty was a 90-day suspension and the loss of his bonus money. As it turned out, that bonus money was nowhere close to Chavez's fine, yet a small fortune for most mixed martial artists and a substantial amount by any measure.
Because New Jersey does not disclose salaries, it's impossible to know exactly what Healy's win bonus was for beating Jim Miller, but since his last win bonus in January was $15,000, it's safe to assume it was at least that this time around.
Add in his Fight of the Night and Submission of the Night bonuses, which were $65,000 apiece, and Healy was essentially fined a minimum of $145,000 for his positive test.
Assuming his guaranteed fight purse was right around the $27,000 he earned in January (it was likely a bit higher), he was penalized somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 percent of his earnings, a staggering sum.
The obvious needs to be said here: The problem started with Healy. He is the one who chose to smoke marijuana during training camp, and took the risk that the drug would be out of his system. He is ultimately responsible for setting the wheels in motion for the draconian penalty that followed. But that doesn't absolve the penalty-maker for unreasonable punitiveness.
If the NSAC "officially lost its mind" for fining Chavez 30 percent of his purse, what are we to make of the decision to yank away 80 percent of Healy's earnings?
When the UFC decided it would hold back nightly bonus award checks until after drug test results, it was ostensibly to help clean up the sport from cheaters. It was, in effect, a safeguard from rewarding PED users. Those are the drugs that alter competitive balance, after all.
Marijuana is not a drug that anyone sees in that light. The UFC has even acknowledged that publicly. In March, just a month after Chavez's fine, UFC vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner visited the NSAC and implored them to consider revisiting punishments for marijuana use.
"I think it's something that has to be discussed on a commission level now," he said then. "Right now I just cannot believe that a performance-enhancing drug and marijuana can be treated the same. It just doesn't make sense to the world anymore and it's something that has to be brought up."
Marijuana is banned because commissions generally follow the code of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which sets the lead on drugs in sport. Keep in mind that as recently as 2002, caffeine was among the drugs banned by WADA. Caffeine.
Why did that change?
"We must adjust our list to modern thinking and to changes of attitude and changes of knowledge," WADA's medical research committee head said at the time.
At the same time, the status of marijuana was debated, but Arne Ljungqvist, who headed the medical research committee, said it was left on the list of banned drugs not because it is performance enhancing, but because the definition of doping also covers substances that "violate the spirit of sport."
That subjective terminology is far too broad. This is a question for science. It should come down to this: does marijuana enhance performance or not? Many conclusions -- like this one, and this one and this one, say no. Even the NCAA's top medical committee recently "universally agreed" that pot is not a performance-enhancer.
For now, yes, marijuana is on the banned list. And yes, Healy admitted to smoking it. But it does not deserve the same penalty as PEDs. With the money he just surrendered, Healy's penalty by percentage was greater than any fine ever handed out for true PEDs like steroids or testosterone or EPO. Something is very wrong with this picture.
Lavar Johnson was fined $1,250 for using testosterone. Rafael Cavalcante was fined $2,500 for using stanozolol. And Healy lost out on over $140,000 for using pot. If we think Chavez losing 30 percent of his earnings is ridiculous, there should be outrage over Healy's treatment. Chavez plans to sue to recover some of his fine. What recourse does Healy have?
There is little question that one day in the future, marijuana will be removed from commissions' lists of banned substances, or its penalties will be severely reduced. Perhaps then, Healy will be able to take solace in the knowledge that his treatment helped expedite that change.