(TMU) — For years, professional athletes have been subjected to drug tests that screen for cannabis. The practice has continued even as the substance has become legally available in many states while being scientifically and clinically proven to be safer than alcohol and opiates, both of which have been largely tolerated by most major sporting leagues.
This week, the Major League Baseball organization in the U.S. announced their new drug testing policies and associated penalties. Until now, the MLB was one of the few major sporting leagues that did not test its players for recreational drugs. While they did have an official list of banned substances for many years, they only actually tested their players for performance-enhancing drugs. Players would sometimes get in trouble if they were caught in the act or arrested for off-field activities, but they were not forced to take random drug tests as players in other American sporting leagues are.
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That is all going to change this year when they begin to test their players for cocaine and opiates. However, the league says that cannabis will be removed from their list of banned drugs and will be considered a recreational substance like alcohol. One ironic twist is that synthetic cannabis compounds will be screened for and treated as an abusive substance, as these chemicals have been known to be very harmful.
Testing for opiates and other hard drugs became a topic of discussion among MLB decision-makers earlier this year after the overdose death of the 27-year-old Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs.
Union head Tony Clark says that treatment plans will be available for players who are found to be on hard drugs, and they will not face any further penalties if they comply with the treatment plan.
“Players from our side of the equation recognize that there was an opportunity to take a leadership role here in this discussion. Players aren’t immune to issues that affect all of us, and so the situation this year only heightened that, brought it even closer to home,” Clark said.
Clark hopes that this policy will reflect the current reality of drug science.
“It was a part of a larger conversation that was reflective of the attitudes changing in many parts of the country,” he says.
This policy will also apply to the minor league program, which actually has tested players for cannabis to determine eligibility.
“The minor league program obviously affects a number of our PA members every year because we have a number of guys who sign major league contracts then wind up finding themselves removed from the 40-man roster during the course of the year. So this was something that, again, as part of the discussion for the overarching baseball player community, was important,” Clark said.