While marijuana is routinely banned in major sports, Major League Baseball might be coming around to the idea of medical cannabis. In recent months, the discussion over whether or not marijuana could be used by professional players for pain relief has risen as legalization efforts increase, and many are looking for pain relief outside of opioids.
While Major League Baseball does not regularly test for marijuana or opioids, the recent opioid death of a player has brought up the possibility that testing should be enforced. Meanwhile, Minor League Baseball, which does test for those substances, has seen a growing number of players call for the use of medical marijuana to become allowed.
No firm answer has been made on the issue, but as attitudes toward the drug become more lenient and more states legalize, both the Major and Minor leagues are expected to come out with a stance on the issue soon.
Marijuana and the MLB
When it comes to Major League Baseball, they only test for performance-enhancing drugs in a player's system, not any illicit drugs such as opioids or marijuana.
Because of this, many players in the Major League use marijuana as a form of pain relief often from surgeries related to playing.
However, the minor league is a different story.
The Impact of Players' Unions
Part of the reason that the major league players are not tested for drugs like fentanyl or marijuana is that they are represented by a players union that only tests for performance-enhancing drugs. Minor league players are not represented by any unions and are tested for all drugs regardless of their purpose.
The differences in testing also come with a different penalty, as any major league players caught with marijuana can be admitted for a mandatory drug treatment program and face escalating fines not to exceed $35,000 for marijuana-related violations. Minor league players, however, are subject to suspensions from games, as well as fines, with three positive tests leading to a 100-game ban and four leading to being banned from the game entirely.
The Player’s Association, the union which oversees Major League Baseball players, has consistently opposed strict punishment for marijuana that goes back to 2002.
13 players in the minor league have been suspended for marijuana-related offenses this year, with multiple positive tests needed for a suspension.
Suspensions are Mostly for Marijuana Use
When it comes to drug-related suspensions as a whole, around 80 percent of the suspensions are due to marijuana, while 80 percent of positive tests were due to marijuana. Major and Minor League Baseball are not the only sport that has a ban on Cannabis and cannabidiol (CBD), as players in the NFL and NBA are also not allowed to use the substances.
However, like the MLB, the organizations are looking at the possibility of allowing the usage of the drugs for pain relief. Earlier this March, the MLB vice president of drug, health and safety programs, Jon Coyles, sent out a memo to players about marijuana and the current stance on it for players regarding CBD as a banned substance.
“Claims of CBD products being ‘THC free’ are false and misleading,” Coyles wrote in the memo. “We have seen multiple positive drug tests…in the past year for THC that appear to have resulted from the use of CBD products, despite the product labels.”
With marijuana being outright banned for players across the board, some have called for a reversal as the opioid crisis weighs heavy on a group of people who deal with sport-related injuries that involve surgery and chronic pain.
A Chance to Reevaluate Testing Requirements
This July, a Los Angeles Angels pitcher, Tyler Skaggs, died of after choking on his own vomit with alcohol, fentanyl, and oxycodone in his system.
The Angels are a major league team, which does not test for opioids. While his death has sparked the possible need for testing in the major league, the discussion on whether marijuana would be included in the testing is also present.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “The parties have discussed whether to loosen baseball’s restrictions on marijuana — not specifically as a trade-off for opioid testing, but as part of the annual review of the sport’s drug policy, according to three people familiar with the talks but not authorized to comment publicly on them.”
Depending on how the talks go, restrictions toward marijuana could be lessened for both leagues and players. The MLB and players union are currently seeking advice from teams and researchers about whether marijuana could be used as a form of pain relief for players.
As more and more states begin to legalize cannabis for recreational and medical uses, many are pushing for an official policy to be released.
Currently, 11 states have cannabis legalized for recreational use, with 33 states having medical programs. While no official announcement has been made on the topic, an answer will be needed eventually.