After the steroid-soaked ’90s, Major League Baseball and its players’ union established a drug-testing program in 2002. In addition to performance-enhancing drugs, a category that also includes stimulants, the program randomly players for so-called “drugs of abuse” that are exactly what they sound like.
But times have (thankfully) changed, and the league and the union just agreed to a slate of changes to their testing rules. The regime will no longer test for natural cannabinoids including THC, CBD, and marijuana, a common-sense change in a country where 11 states have legal recreational marijuana and 33 have medical.
The new agreement will treat marijuana-related conduct (we assume only harmful conduct and not eating too much and spending all day on the couch) will be disciplined in the same way alcohol-related conduct is: “mandatory evaluation, voluntary treatment and the possibility of discipline by a Player’s Club or the Commissioner’s Office in response to certain conduct.”
In other words, if a player wants to smoke a joint and he doesn’t hurt anyone, baseball doesn’t care. Before this change, which goes into effect starting with Spring Training in February, players found under the influence or in possession of marijuana faced fines of up to $35,000 per violation.
The other big changes to the program were prompted by the tragic death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs last season. Skaggs had fentanyl and oxycodone in his body when he died, an unmistakable sign that the opioid crisis affecting millions of Americans had made its way to a major league clubhouse.
All samples from players will now be tested for the presence of opioids, fentanyl, cocaine, and synthetic THC. If a player does test positive for any of these or another drug of abuse, he’ll have the chance to cooperate with an evaluation in front of a board of medical professionals and following a prescribed treatment plan and avoid discipline. It’s a treatment-based instead of punishment-based approach, and it should be applauded.
Additionally, all players and club personnel will have to go through classes on “the dangers of opioid pain medications and practical approaches to marijuana” during the next two seasons.
With America’s pastime making sensible changes to its drug policy, we can only hope that America’s lawmakers see fit to do the same.