Major League Baseball (MLB) recently got on the right side of history when the league announced that it will be removing cannabis from its list of banned substances and will treat cannabis like alcohol.
The new policy will become effective starting in 2020 during the league’s spring training.
MLB’s cannabis policy change marks a significant shift in professional sports, and given the prominent role that professional sports plays in society, it is a really big deal.
Currently, professional baseball players are bound by a very harsh cannabis policy that results in severe penalties for failed drug tests (a 50 ng/mL THC threshold).
Major League Baseball players are suspended for 25 games after their first failed drug test, 50 games for a second, 100 games for a third, and are banned for life after a fourth failed drug test.
Thankfully, that will now go away once spring training rolls around.
What Will the New MLB Policy Look Like?
When the new policy takes effect, players who are determined to have consumed cannabis will be referred to a treatment board, similar to when a player is suspected of abusing alcohol.
Players will not be punished for failing to participate in a recommended treatment program.
The new policy is a gamechanger from a medical cannabis perspective. Prior to the new policy’s enactment, MLB made no distinction between medical cannabis use and non-medical use.
With the new program, the league will be granted the flexibility to consider whether or not a player is using cannabis for medical purposes.
In a perfect world, there wouldn’t even be a review involved and cannabis would be treated like any other safe medicine, however, the policy change is still a dramatic improvement.
If Major League Baseball Can Treat Cannabis Like Alcohol, Why Can’t the NBA and NFL?
MLB is not the first professional sports league to treat cannabis like alcohol. The National Hockey League (NHL) holds that distinction.
One question now is if and when the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Football League (NFL) will soon update their cannabis policies.
The only thing stopping those leagues from reforming their cannabis policies is the will to make it happen, and any lack of will is squarely on the league’s owners and leadership.
Cannabis prohibition is a harmful policy, no matter where it exists, and professional sports are no exception.
The NFL’s and NBA’s current cannabis policies are ridiculous. No exceptions are made for medical cannabis and players are punished when they are subjected to cannabis prohibition laws and arrests by law enforcement.
Cannabis prohibition has a disproportionate impact on Communities of Color. It’s a mathematical fact. Cannabis prohibition is a form of institutional racism.
When leagues punish players for cannabis offenses that occur away from the team, those leagues are perpetuating institutional racism. That is unacceptable.
League owners will often put the burden on players to have to make the push for cannabis policy reform during contract negotiations, which is also unacceptable.
A player’s health and the right to be free from the harms of institutional racism should not be treated as a ‘bargaining chip’ by league owners.
Sports Fans Support Cannabis Reform
One talking point that cannabis prohibitionists in professional sports cling to is the claim that reforming cannabis policies in professional sports would send the wrong message to fans.
However, polling has consistently found that sports fans support cannabis reform in professional sports leagues. Below are some examples via retired NBA All-Star Clifford Robinson, who was suspended four times during his 18 year NBA career for cannabis use:
- Marist College, in conjunction with Yahoo, conducted a poll in which sports fans were asked the following question – ‘Would you have more or less respect for your favorite sports athlete if you learned they used marijuana in their personal life? If it makes no difference please say so.’ A substantial 68% of poll participants expressed that if their favorite sports athlete consumed cannabis that it ‘makes no difference’ to the level of respect that they have for the athlete. An additional 3% stated that they would have more respect. Only 28% of poll respondents stated that they would have less respect for an athlete that consumes cannabis.
- A combined 71% of poll participants would have equal or more respect for a professional athlete (including NBA athletes) if they found out that they consumed cannabis, and not just for medical purposes. That’s significantly more than the support for national legalization (64%) by American voters, and the same as the level of support for medical cannabis legalization in the NFL among its players (also 71%).
- Another poll, conducted by PRRI, found that “A majority (54%) of the public believe professional athletes should not be prohibited from using marijuana if they live in a state where it is legal.”
According to polling, even members of sports media overwhelming support cannabis reform in professional sports leagues.
A poll conducted by The Big Lead explored the level of support for cannabis reform among sports media members, with an astounding 76.5% of poll participants stating that cannabis prohibition should end. Support for cannabis reform amongst voters is at an all-time high.
As previously stated, cannabis reform is in professional sports is a really important component of the greater cannabis reform movement.
Fans of the NBA, MLB, NFL, and NHL make up a massive chunk of the population. Reform in sports provides a huge boost to reform efforts in politics.
Cannabis reform in sports is also important for the future of the cannabis industry, as it will usher in an era in which sports cannabis products are embraced rather than stigmatized. Considering how many people play sports, it’s a massive potential consumer base.
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