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California bill would increase penalties for drug users, multiply budget for testing

E. Casey Leydon

Nevada isn't the only state taking steps to deter potential performance-enhancing drug users.

A UFC-backed bill currently in the California state legislature would more than double the California State Athletic Commission's budget for drug testing and also allow CSAC to fine boxers and MMA fighters up to 40 percent of their purse for a positive test. Currently, CSAC can only fine fighters $2,500 if they pop for drugs.

The bill, entitled SB 469, also makes it clear that the use of substances prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is not only against CSAC rules, but also against California law. According to Sen. Jerry Hill, the bill's author, California's Boxing Act already states that any person who violates any part of the act is guilty of a crime and SB 469 further clarifies that as it pertains to drug offenders.

The bill passed out of the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee last week with bipartisan support. It will now go over to the Assembly side. If it passes there, it will then be in the hands of Gov. Jerry Brown. SB 469 could become law as soon as the summer.

"It is important for the protection of athletes and the integrity of their bouts that his prohibition is in the law -- as well as in the commission's rules, where it already exists," Hill told "Because cheaters who use performance-enhancing substances are not just breaking the rules. Athletes in contact sports like fighting can cause great harm to their opponents -- as well as to themselves and to their own health -- when they take prohibited substances."

The CSAC budget for drug-testing right now is around $100,000 (already a significant increase over last year), but it would go up by $115,000 for fiscal year 2016-17 if the bill passes. Thereafter would be an increase of $107,000 per year.

"The bill gives the California State Athletic Commission a lot more flexibility and teeth for the fines the commission can give in addition to the normal suspension of a license that exists," CSAC executive officer Andy Foster said. "That still remains. If the bill should pass in its form, the commission receives a very large appropriation for drug testing."

While the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) passed firm penalties for drug users two weeks ago, California will not implement hard-and-fast discipline, preferring to take every situation on a case-by-case basis.

On May 15, the NAC instituted a massive overhaul of its drug-testing penalties. First-time steroid users will be suspended for 36 months and be fined between 50 and 75 percent of their purse. The discipline goes up exponentially for multiple-time offenders. Details on the new Nevada policies can be found here.

CSAC chair John Carvelli told that it's the belief in California that it's more appropriate to take cases as they come rather than impose a specific discipline structure.

"I think we're looking forward to getting this increased authority," Carvelli said. "We're hoping it acts as a deterrent. We're gonna deal with things on a case-by-case basis and not have blanket policies, if you will. We want to make it clear, though, that when you come to California you're going to get drug tested and that if you don't follow the rules there are penalties. And they're going to increase as appropriate."

Prohibited drugs and testing have been hot topics in MMA over the past year. In 2015 alone, legendary former UFC champion Anderson Silva, former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, popular UFC middleweight Nick Diaz and former judoka Hector Lombard have all tested positive for banned substances, from anabolic steroids to marijuana.

In February, the UFC announced it would ramping up its drug-testing policies, promising the random testing of its entire roster beginning in July. The UFC is also urging athletic commissions to increase penalties for offenders and is a backer for SB 469.

Hill is optimistic the bill will pass and the alterations will be implemented.

"I believe it has a great chance of continuing to move along through the process and ultimately being enacted to ensure that these important changes are made," he said.

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