Major League Baseball (MLB) entered into an agreement with its Players Association (MLBPA) last week and agreed to change baseball’s drug policies.
Under the new rules, the MLB will now test its players for opioids, as well mandate treatment for players who test positive for recreational drugs such as cocaine and marijuana. The earlier policy permitted the MLB to punish players who tested positive.
Cannabis will now be treated similarly to alcohol in MLB: players who are found to abuse either will now undergo evaluation and treatment, rather than face suspensions or fines from the league. Opioid use will now be tested in the MLB due to the untimely death of Tyler Skaggs, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels, whose system was found to contain the opioids oxycodone and fentanyl.
— MLB Communications (@MLB_PR) 12. Dezember 2019
A number of states have already legalised recreational cannabis use, reducing the stigma considerably. According to an ESPN study, there are 123 teams from the four major sports leagues in North America: the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB. The report shows that 45 teams are located in areas that have legalised recreational cannabis use while another 56 teams are located in areas that have legalised medical marijuana.
The NHL was the first among the four leagues to move away from the punishment of players who tested positive for THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. The NHL decided to instead recommend treatment to players who tested positive. The NFL and NBA mandate that players who test positive for the first time must enrol in a substance abuse program; succeeding positive tests will be met by suspensions or fines.
MLB’s Policy Reflects Societal Changes
While the MLB’s amended cannabis policy deserves praise, it is important to understand the factors that allowed such a change to happen in the United States. As cannabis use becomes more normalised across the country, more Americans perceive the restrictive cannabis policies of major sports leagues as antiquated and unfairly punitive.
This widespread change in public perception likely empowered the MLB to enact these changes as the general public is now more open to the use of cannabis. The progressive cannabis policies of the MLB and NHL are a step in the right direction, as it moves sports leagues away from punitive drug policies, and toward rehabilitative policies that treats its players humanely.
Don’t be surprised if you see the NBA and NHL make changes to their policies and follow in the footsteps of the MLB in 2020.