In a move that could have profound implications for professional sports, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported earlier today that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) have agreed to remove marijuana from the list of banned substances as part of a new agreement to curb opioid use.
The prospective change comes on the heels of a 2019 season marred by the death of 27-year-old Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who was found with both fentanyl and oxycodone in his system. Under the new program, players who test positive for opioids would be put into a treatment program rather than suspended.
The decision to allow cannabis use is likely due to several studies that indicate the medical use of marijuana may be a non-fatal alternative to prescription painkillers. Experts from Harvard Medical School found a reduction in opioid prescriptions in states with legal access to medical marijuana.
MLB’s current player agreement bans non-40-man roster minor leaguers for 25 games after their first positive cannabis test, 50 games for a second positive test, and 100 games for a third positive test. Players are banned for life following a fourth positive test, according to CBS Sports.
Major league players are not currently tested for cannabis, which would effectively be legalized across baseball once negotiations conclude. The MLB would then join the NHL as the only major sports leagues with no league-administered punishment for consuming marijuana.
The negotiations are timely, as “of the 123 teams across MLB, the NBA, NHL and NFL, 45 play in states or provinces where recreational marijuana is legal,” according to ESPN.
Although talks between the MLB and its players association are still in process, both sides are confident that they’ll reach an agreement by the end of the year.