Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders was apologetic about a five-game drug suspension but also vigorously defended his marijuana use in an interview Friday night before the Bucks played the Chicago Bulls at the United Center.

Sanders' season-long saga took another wrong turn earlier Friday when he was penalized by the league for using marijuana in violation of the NBA/NBPA (National Basketball Players Association) drug program.

Sanders already was sidelined due to right orbital fractures suffered when he was elbowed inadvertently by Houston's James Harden in a Feb. 8 game, an injury that required surgery.

So it remains unclear whether the 6-foot-11 Sanders will be able to start the five-game suspension at some point as the current season winds down or will be forced to begin the suspension at the beginning of the 2014-'15 season. He must be ruled physically able to play before a suspension can begin.

The Bucks have six games remaining.

"It's something I feel strongly about, just to let you know something personal about me," Sanders said in an interview with the Journal Sentinel and "I will deal with the consequences from it. It's a banned substance in my league. But I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it. I know what it is if I'm going to use it.

"I study it and I know the benefits it has. In a lot of ways we've been deprived. You can't really label it with so many other drugs that people can be addicted to and have so many negative effects on your body and your family and your relationships and impairment. This is not the same thing.

"The stigma is that it's illegal. I hate that. Once this becomes legal, this all will go away. But I understand for my work it's a banned substance. I will deal with the consequences and I apologize again to my fans for that."

Marijuana is now legal in Colorado and Washington but is still an illegal drug in other states.

The positive marijuana test was Sanders' third of his career, triggering the five-game suspension.

Bucks coach Larry Drew said, "We're all disappointed at the news. It's unfortunate, but the organization has issued a statement and I would rather not comment on it."

The Bucks said in their statement: "Larry Sanders has a responsibility to every person in our organization and our fans. We are all disappointed by the news of his suspension."

Asked if it would be difficult for Sanders to start next season with the taint of a five-game suspension, Drew said, "Sure it would be tough. He's a guy we count on.

"If it does happen to start next year, we'll just have to deal with it."

Bucks general manager John Hammond said he did not want to comment beyond the team's statement.

A league spokesman declined comment on Sanders' defense of marijuana use.

Sanders will begin his four-year, $44 million contract extension next season, a deal he signed last summer after placing third in the league's most improved player voting for the 2013-'14 season.

Asked if he could overcome a suspension to start next season, Sanders said, "Yeah I could. It's just more motivation to work harder. It's something negative to deal with. But the recipe doesn't change for me. I'm just as excited for the summer.

"It's been two opposite sides of the spectrum in a lot of ways. Two extremes. A consistent season would be great. I'll be better from this. I've learned a lot already from this year. I'm going to continue to learn. I hate that this is a negative impact on my fans and my family or the organization."

Sanders' season started ominously when he got involved in a brawl at a downtown Milwaukee night club in the early morning hours of Nov. 3, following the Bucks' home-opening loss to Toronto. He suffered a torn ligament in his right thumb and the injury required surgery that sidelined him for eight weeks.