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It’s Not a Marijuana Free-For-All for Professional Athletes

PHOTO Paul Lim


It’s Not a Marijuana Free-For-All for Professional Athletes

MLB memo clarifies players could still be punished for cannabis use.

When it was announced earlier this year during the offseason that professional baseball players were no longer going to be drug tested for marijuana, well, let’s just say that the cannabis advocacy community considered it a homerun. It was progress. For the past several years, there has been a lot of chatter surrounding cannabis and athletes, some of which insists that these mofos should have the freedom to use it as an alternative to prescription drugs. But conflicting state and federal laws have the leagues a little apprehensive about going all-in with respect to anything weed-related. Still, the pressure is mounting. So, as an act of good faith — that is, to keep all of the reefer radicals off their backs — some pro sports leagues, including the MLB, have come to grips with the fact that it might be detrimental in this day and age to keep testing players for pot. Only, that doesn’t mean that athletes can go full-blown stoner. It turns out there could still be some stiff penalties for those players who wear their pot consumption on their sleeves.

Although the white coats of the MLB are not scouring player’s systems this year for THC, a recent memo obtained by ESPN’s Jeff Passan shows that marijuana use isn’t exactly being embraced. The document indicates that players and team officials who “appear under the influence of marijuana or any other cannabinoid during any of the club’s games, practices, workouts, meetings or otherwise during the course and within the scope of their employment” will be given a “mandatory evaluation” to determine if they need drug treatment. The league would then also have the choice to review the incident and determine the extent of their cruel and unusual punishment.

In other words, the MLB isn’t testing players for marijuana, but if management suspects that someone is stoned, there will be hell to pay.

Furthermore, it appears that MLB is going all American authoritarian on its players, as well. In a report from the mighty Sports Illustrated, deputy commissioner Dan Halem explained that the league still has the freedom to punish players who break state marijuana laws. So, while those dudes playing for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Chicago Cubs are relatively safe from disciplinary action (both teams reside in areas where prohibition is no longer in effect), players with organizations like the St. Louis Cardinals could find themselves in deep trouble if they are caught in possession or driving under the influence. Because while it is true that medical marijuana is legal in 26 of the 30 cities where major leaguers do their thing, pot is only permitted in 11 jurisdictions for recreational use. The MLB still doesn’t allow marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes, and it doesn’t want it anywhere on the premises of team facilities, the document states.

It should be noted that, despite all of the rules the MLB has for players regarding marijuana, it is still the league with the most progressive drug policies. The NBA continues to test for weed, even though some former players believe that as many as 85% of pro ballers are getting high. Some current players are also advocating for a change in the NBA’s drug policy. All-Star Kevin Durant, who recently signed with the Brooklyn Nets, believes weed should be treated no differently than wine. “It’s a plant that’s put here for a reason, and that’s to bring us together, Durant said. “Hopefully, it happens (eliminating marijuana from the banned substances list), especially in the NBA.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has indicated that the issue is being discussed. But he wants to see more research. And the decision the NBA makes must also take into account how it influences young fans. “When we change our policy, we have to be really careful because we’re clearly sending a message to young people,” he said. “Just like with alcohol, you have to teach young people how to use a substance appropriately and responsibly, so it doesn’t overwhelm your life. It’s a complicated issue.”

What about the NFL? Well, the league still hasn’t embraced marijuana for medical use, but it is taking a more relaxed attitude towards those players who use it. The latest collective bargaining agreement, which was just made official, eliminates the possibility of game suspensions for players who test positive for THC. It would also reduce other penalties associated with this offense. The deal includes “dramatically reduced penalties, with suspensions happening only in the event of extreme and repeated disregard of the policy or significant violations of applicable law regarding the possession and use of marijuana,” according to NBC Sports.

It’s still going to be a minute, however, before players are allowed to use marijuana the same as alcohol. Sure, professional sports leagues are starting to come around concerning drug testing and the penalties associated with pot, but they aren’t letting players totally off the hook. Perhaps the cannabis issue in professional sports is, as Jerry Seinfeld once said, like knocking over a Coke machine. “You can’t do it in one push. You gotta rock it back and forth a few times, and then it goes over.”

TELL US, does your favorite player support marijuana?

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