The MLB announced recently that it will allow baseball teams to be sponsored by select cannabis companies that market CBD wellness products. The MLB has continuously been one of the more progressive leagues when it comes to cannabis regulation and drug-related policies for its athletes.
Recently we have seen other major leagues take steps inspired by the MLB, which is promising. Continued Olympic controversies have highlighted the double standard applied to athletes when it comes to drug policies.
The MLB’s continued progressive approach has benefited the league and will continue to benefit them in the future, as they will be able to network and partner with a broader pool of collaborators.
Meeting Certain Criteria
The move on behalf of the MLB is an exciting one, although the potential for sponsorships is not a free-for-all. Cannabis companies must meet certain criteria according to an announcement made by the league in a conference call with team marketers.
In order for a team to be sponsored by a CBD company, that company’s products must be NSF International certified. NSF International is a product testing, inspection, and certification organization on which the MLB has relied for many years. Furthermore, the team must also receive approval from the commissioner’s office of the MLB.
While several cannabis firms have inquired about having their CBD products certified, none have gone through the certification process at this time, according to MLB Chief Revenue Officer Noah Garden.
“None of them are there yet, although around three to five [brands] are in process,” said Garden.
The topic of marijuana use in high-performing athletes came to a head in 2021 when U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was banned from competing at the Tokyo Olympics due to trace amounts of THC in her system.
The runner spoke publicly about the fact that she was grieving the loss of her biological mother. Although cannabis is legal in her state, marijuana is still classified as a “substance of abuse” by the World Anti-Doping Agency and as such, Richardson was removed from the Olympic roster after running a qualifying time in trials.
The dust was kicked up anew in 2022 during the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. Kamila Valieva, a 15-year-old figure skater representing the Russian Olympic Committee led her team to a first-place win in the team event, but it was quickly discovered that the teen had tested positive for a forbidden heart medication.
Shockingly, the skater was permitted to compete in the solo event and faced extreme backlash from Richardson supporters.
According to People, The CAS cited Valieva’s status as a “protected person” (a minor) in making the decision in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Code. Sha’Carri was a fresh 21 at the time of her incident. Richardson expressed her concern at the double standard publicly.
In a tweet, she said, “can we get a solid answer on the difference [between] her situation and mine? My mother died and I can’t run and was also favored to place top 3. The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady.”
A Progressive Organization
Compared to other professional sports leagues, MLB has distinguished itself as being more receptive to the shifting marijuana environment. For instance, it was made clear in a memo in 2020 that although players cannot be personally sponsored by marijuana businesses or own assets in the sector, they will not be penalized if they use cannabis in their leisure time.
The announcement has come in conjunction with a movement toward new drug policies by the MLB. Both the MLB and the Players Union have agreed to put an emphasis on treatment rather than punishment when it comes to drug use by MLB players. “Players who test positive for opioids or cocaine, for example, will be penalized only if they refuse treatment.”
Follow The Leader
The MLB’s actions have led to promising responses on behalf of other sports organizations including the NFL and the NCAA.
Under new rules that were presented to the NCAA earlier this year, players would no longer automatically lose their NCAA eligibility in the event of a positive marijuana test.
Due to a collective bargaining agreement, NFL players are no longer subject to the threat of suspension from games due to positive drug tests for any substance, not only marijuana. Instead, players will be fined. The agreement also raised the standard for what defines a positive THC test result.
The NBA declared in late 2020 that it will continue to forgo randomly testing players for marijuana through the season of 2021–2022. The organization announced that it would stop randomly testing players for THC; however, it would still test players “for cause” in situations where they had a history of substance abuse.
The anti-prohibitionist movement is beginning to bleed into major organizations, and it is an exciting moment in cannabis history.
The MLB’s progressive attitude towards cannabis has allowed them to spearhead a movement where major league sports and cannabis can coexist. Further, the MLB has been able to capitalize on valuable partnerships that other sports agencies have not yet ventured into.
That being said, we’ve seen action being taken by other major sports leagues and the potential for the cannabis industry and the general attitude surrounding cannabis is incredibly promising.
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