MLB loosens the reins on cannabis consumption

Major League Baseball (MLB) and its subsequent player’s union (MLBPA) seems to have had a softening of tone regarding cannabis use amongst their professional athletes.

An official announcement was made today (Dec. 12) that the MLB and MLBPA is set to revise its “Parties' Joint Treatment Program for Alcohol-Related and Off-Field Violent Conduct” policies, removing weed from the list of banned substances for major leaguers.

While the announcement doesn’t go as far as other North American athletic associations just yet, it does match a changing attitude across professional sports.

The MLB’s announcement is the latest in a nationwide attitude change across numerous professional sports leagues. The Ultimate Fighting Championship, National Hockey League’s Alumni Association, and National Football League all have announced cannabis research partnerships in the last year, and created more leniency in their mandates for its use to treat pain and psychological wellness.

Currently, 50 nanograms of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per millilitre of urine is considered testing positive in the MLB. The penalties can carry a $35,000 USD fine and between a 25 to 100 game suspension depending on the number of infractions. Four positive drug tests can result in a lifetime player ban.

Going forward, testing positive for cannabis will be treated the same as alcohol-related conduct under the joint drug program (pun, unintended). Players will be subject to mandatory evaluations, voluntary treatment programs, and possible discipline.

In a release, the MLB and MLBPA say they “continue to favour a treatment-based approach to drugs of abuse, with a particular emphasis on protecting players from lethal and addictive substances.” The league will, however, increase tests for opioids, fentanyl, cocaine, and synthetic THC. If positive, players will be referred to a treatment board for evaluation and those who fail to comply will be “subject to discipline”.

Responding to the announcement, MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem said: "The opioid epidemic in our country is an issue of significant concern to Major League Baseball. It is our hope that this agreement—which is based on principles of prevention, treatment, awareness and education—will help protect the health and safety of our players.”

He went on to say the decision was made under the guidance of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and hopes it will help raise public awareness on the risks and dangers of opioid medications.

Applauding the efforts of the MLB, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Jim Carroll, also known as the U.S. Drug Czar, said: "Millions of Americans struggle with substance misuse and need help…This historic agreement is an example of how we can all work toward a common goal and save more of our friends, family members, and neighbours from dying of a drug overdose.”

In tandem with the policy change, education on “the dangers of opioid pain medications and practical approaches to marijuana” are also being introduced during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The release says any information provided to players and coaches will be “evidence-based and health-first approaches based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety.”

While the MLB hasn’t made any moves towards researching the plant’s effectiveness for player wellness—it could be the first step.

A real-time look at the 2019 injured list shows 667 players have been injured this year, costing the league over $750 million in disability wages.

This season, 13 players have been suspended for drug use.

The changes will come into effect beginning in spring training in 2020.

This article is available under a Canadian Creative Commons licence.