"For a lot of people—not saying everybody—but for a lot of people this isn’t performance-enhancing. This isn’t a party deal," Riley said.
"For a lot of people, it’s a major mental-health issue. Major. And as I finally woke up and paid attention, with that realization in me finally being able to learn that and understand that—which took me too long, honestly—it shifted everything about how we handle that issue in our program."
Per Aber, wide receiver Trejan Bridges, defensive end Ronnie Perkins and running back Rhamondre Stevenson tested positive for marijuana before the team's Dec. 29, 2019, loss to LSU in the 2019 Peach Bowl.
They were each suspended for a half-season, which carried over into this year.
Perkins won a special appeal and was able to play as soon as the team's Oct. 3 game against Iowa State, per Jason Kersey of The Athletic.
"Perkins’ situation is more unclear than the other two. Perkins was granted an appeal earlier this month but steps needed to be completed before he could regain eligibility and were not. The defensive end traveled with the Sooners to face Iowa State on Oct. 3 but did not play in the immediate wake of the ruling and then did not travel for the game against Texas."
All three players can hypothetically return Saturday against Texas Tech after sitting out the team's first five contests in 2020.
"It’s been really, really hard on those three kids," Riley added. "I gotta watch what I say. But I mean, it’s been agonizing for those three kids. It’s not right."
"I grew up, and even as a young coach, looking at it like this is just a lazy, dumb thing people do, and if they do they should get punished. That’s kind of how I was raised. That’s how I was raised as a coach."
Aber wrote Sept. 22 that there was hope the suspensions could be reduced.
Riley also lamented the fact that changing attitudes on marijuana have not affected the NCAA yet, to the point where the student-athletes had to serve their full punishments.
"We’ve had just a remarkable turnaround in a short time in our program on that whole issue," Riley said.
"And then the NCAA needs to wake up and figure that out too. Unfortunately, they haven’t yet for these kids. Now, it’ll get changed soon, but not soon enough for these three guys."
Riley has criticized the NCAA's stance on marijuana before in relation to the three Sooner suspensions.
"It has been a challenging year for the NCAA. There's a lot on their plate right now," Riley said per Aber on Sept. 22.
"But this is a big issue. It is. And it's a much bigger issue than these three players, and I think maybe that's part of why the process has been a little bit slower than all of us would like, but you're talking about an archaic rule within the NCAA. You're talking about a world that has really changed on the subject."
The NCAA defines marijuana as a banned substance and outlined the punishment as follows: "A student-athlete who tests positive for marijuana in an NCAA administered drug test will be declared ineligible for competition and withheld from the next 50 percent of contests in all sports in which the compete."
A second positive test leads to a student-athlete losing a full year of eligibility.
Riley's Sooners, who are 3-2, currently rank No. 24 in the Associated Press poll. Their game at Texas Tech will begin Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.