Major League Baseball has revamped its drug-testing program, removing cannabis from its list of “drugs of abuse.” Beginning with the upcoming Spring Training season, testing positive for marijuana use will not lead to the suspension of a player.
And other professional sports leagues could well follow the MLB’s lead. Contract negotiations are currently underway between NFL team owners and NFL players, for example, and according to several media reports, the league’s ban on players using marijuana products is on the negotiating table.
A study last year by ESPN found that of 123 teams playing in the MLB, the National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and National Football League, 45 play in sates or Canadian provinces where recreational marijuana use is legal, and another 56 play in areas where medical marijuana use is legal. Not included in the recreational marijuana count are the 9 pro sports teams playing in Michigan and Illinois, where recreational marijuana use laws recently took hold.
Under the new MLB policy marijuana-related conduct will be treated the same as alcohol-related conduct and off-field violent conduct, which provide for mandatory evaluation and voluntary treatment, according to a statement released in December by MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA).
Meanwhile, players who test positive for opioids, fentanyl, cocaine and synthetic THC in the league’s random drug testing program will be referred for treatment. Only those MLB players who refuse treatment will be disciplined under the new policy.
All MLB players and team personnel also will have to attend mandatory educational programs on the dangers of opioid use for pain and “practical approaches” to marijuana use during the 2020 and 2021 MLB seasons.
“In agreeing to these modifications to [the Joint Drug] Program, MLB and the MLBPA continue to favor a treatment-based approach to drugs and abuse, with a particular emphasis on protecting players from lethal and addictive substances, and providing effective and confidential care and support to players who need it,” the two organizations stated.
The updated policy comes months after a Los Angeles Angels player was found dead from a toxic mix of oxycodone, fentanyl and alcohol. Opioids have long been used for medical conditions, particularly chronic pain. But opioid abuse has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., with an estimated 1.7 million Americans addicted to opioids, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
Concerned about opioid dependency, increasing numbers of Americans are turning to medical cannabis products, including CBD and marijuana, as a viable alternative for the treatment of pain. As evidence of this trend a study published in the Journal of Health Economics, in December, revealed a correlation between recreational and medical uses of cannabis and lower rates of opioid prescriptions and use.
The MLB policy change is being praised by the White House. Jim Carroll, the White House Drug Czar, praised the move, noting that it will “prioritize treatment over punishment,” according to the New York Times.