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Major League Baseball, long believed to be one of the most conservative sports leagues, has opened the door to marijuana use among players after agreeing to drop testing for the plant-based drug and instead, testing players for cocaine and opiates.
The move by the league is seen as a decision allowing baseball to keep up with the times as many states have passed either comprehensive laws allowing full legalization of marijuana and/or medical marijuana.
The revamping of the MLB’s drug program came from not only a changing of societal opinions about marijuana but also so the league could begin testing for opiates. The push for opiate testing came in the wake of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs’s death this summer from an overdose of alcohol, fentanyl and oxycodone.
“It was part of a larger conversation that was reflective of the attitudes changing in many parts of the country,” MLB Players union leader Tony Clark said.
In a recent study done by ESPN, the sports network found that out of the 123 teams across the four big sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NHL and the NFL), 45 of those clubs play in states or provinces where recreational use of marijuana is legal. 56 teams play in states where medical marijuana has approved use among citizens.
Altogether, the 101 teams with some form of legal marijuana legislation accounts for 82 percent of all sports teams. With relaxing societal views, many players have called current bylaws between player unions and leagues that allow for marijuana suspensions draconian and out of step with the feelings of US citizens.
The move by MLB was greeted by writers as a positive step in moving forward with regard to current marijuana views.
“Baseball is looking at their players like people and saying we are going to treat you like people,” ESPN’s Bomani Jones said. “Why doesn’t everybody else treat their players like people?”
The Skaggs death in Southlake, TX hotel room back in July certainly spearheaded a change in philosophy for both the MLB and the players union.
After Skaggs’ autopsy came back positive for a mixture of opiates and alcohol leading to his choking death, the conversation about how to tackle more pressing societal drug issues change in Major League Baseball.
With the move by the two parties to remove marijuana from the banned list of substances, now the attention turns to the NFL and NBA as both leagues have experienced a similar debate on changing their substance abuse rules.
For NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, the topic of marijuana use is a fine line that certainly brings forth a larger mental health debate.
“One of the things I’ve been talking more about in the past several years is mental wellness of our players,” Silver said on a Yahoo Sports podcast in August. “Some guys are smoking pot in the same way some guys would take a drink. Just using it to calm down a little bit or using it to relax, no big deal. It’s no issue, which is why I think it’s been legalized in a lot of states.
“On the other hand, there are guys in the league who are smoking a lot of pot,” he added. “Then the question becomes, ‘Well, why are you smoking a lot of pot?’ And that’s where mental wellness comes in. Because I’ve directly talked to players who say I’m smoking a lot of pot because I have a lot of anxiety and I’m struggling.”
For now, the MLB is the first league to relax their stance on marijuana and it is only a matter of time before we see if the other three big sports leagues follow suit.
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