The agreement signals that the professional baseball league is now far more concerned about opioid abuse than cannabis.
America’s professional baseball players can now smoke all the weed they want. On Monday, Major League Baseball (MLB) officials agreed with the MLB Players Association to stop testing all of its players for marijuana.
The league stopped testing its major league players for cannabis back in 2006, with the ironically named Joint Drug Agreement. The league still randomly tested players for drugs such as amphetamines and steroids, but the only reprimands major league players faced if caught doping were admissions to drug treatment programs. The latest agreement will exempt all minor league players from drug screenings for marijuana, too.
Unlike major leaguers, minor league players faced suspensions, fines, and eventual expulsion from the MLB for repeated marijuana offenses. The new policy will basically let every baller off the hook now — when it comes to weed, anyway.
The agreement also adds a new class of substances to the MLB’s random drug screens: opioids. However, the league and the players are discussing treatment programs for opioid abuse rather than suspension and contract terminations.
On July 1, Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs died from an overdose on fentanyl, oxycodone, and oxymorphone. Like most opioid addicts, he popped pills to control chronic pain caused, in part, by being a professional athlete. The MLB’s investigation into Skaggs’ death prompted the league and its players association to reconsider the league’s drug policies. So far, both the players and the league decided that opioids were a much bigger concern than marijuana, and allowing players to consume cannabis products for pain management could reduce opioid usage.
Writing for the LA Times, sports journalist Bill Shaikin illustrated the problems with the MLB’s marijuana policy when it came to players’ general health: “It made no sense to” San Diego Padres’ Kyle Blanks “that he could use marijuana to ease his discomfort as a major leaguer because there was no testing, but not in the minors, where there was. And on one of his most agonizing days, he said, the discomfort in his heel was so excruciating that he popped an opioid so he could finish a game.”
Furthermore, the federal legalization of hemp late last year added more complications to the MLB’s marijuana testing policies. CBD, a non-intoxicating component of cannabis with medicinal properties, is naturally produced by hemp. Products made with hemp-derived CBD are completely legal now in the US, but these products also contain trace amounts of THC, the part of weed that gets people high. Drug screenings look for THC and its metabolites, meaning minor league players who only took CBD products for pain management could test positive for marijuana even if they never consumed marijuana.
“Claims of CBD products being ‘THC free’ are false and misleading,” Jon Coyles, the MLB’s vice president of drug, safety, and health policies, wrote in a March 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.”
So, the easiest way to get around the CBD conundrum was to just let all the players in both the majors and minors consume marijuana, too. No harm, no foul, right?
Other professional sports leagues are also considering dropping marijuana from their banned substances lists. The NFL is currently conducting a study to assess whether cannabis can work as an effective pain management treatment (it can), the NHL is conducting a similar study for CBD products, and a former NBA commissioner called on the pro basketball association to drop its screenings for weed altogether.