*This post is not an endorsement or a condemnation of marijuana use, but rather a thought exercise*
Marijuana activists in my home state of Arizona are trying to get an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana on the November ballot and, hold on, I promise I’m going to make this post about baseball.
A clinical psychologist at the University of Arizona has recently been granted federal permission to study the effects of marijuana in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder in military veterans (full story here). This is considered a major breakthrough for marijuana advocates, because the federal classification of marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance has greatly inhibited the ability to conduct an appropriate clinical trial. Clinically validated data would be the only way to get beyond the anecdotal evidence of therapeutic benefits that advocates would have you believe. With these types of culturally loaded issues, data is more important than anything else. I promise this post is about baseball.
Jon Singleton, who is a baseball player and therefore this post is about baseball, has recently admitted that he considers himself a drug addict. Specifically, he said that he really enjoys getting high and that he doesn’t enjoy being sober, even when confronted with the drug suspension provisions written in to the current Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement and Joint Drug Agreement. He also admitted that smoking weed interferes with his performance on the baseball field. As a prized prospect, Singleton is worth millions and millions of dollars to his employers. And this is where I think it gets interesting.
If there was eventually significant clinical data to suggest that marijuana was an effective anti-anxiety medication, an effective pain reliever or anti-inflammatory agent, than Major League Baseball would have to consider changes to the JDA when the next CBA gets hammered out. It would be a financial decision rather than any kind of moral or cultural statement, which would be hugely convenient for the league and the 30 team owners.
It’s totally fine right now, in the eyes of the league, for a player to get a prescription for Adderall as a ‘therapeutic use’ exemption to the JDA. And there aren’t very stringent safeguards in place to prevent athletes from abusing this exemption to get what is essentially methamphetamine for a person who doesn’t have a valid medical need for it. There’s also not any reason for the league or the players association to address this until the CBA/JDA expires after the 2016 season (Full documents available here if you hate yourself and love reading legal documents).
So what should the league do about players who smoke pot? I wouldn’t put it past the league to try to look into this under the radar. Culturally, would it be worse for the league to be seen as distinctly Oregonian? Medically, would it be worse for a player to smoke pot rather than take a cortisone injection (provided that clinical data eventually showed a benefit)? MLB isn’t generally fond of making culture news, or changing any thing for any reason. But priority number one is always going to be money. Adderall has no doubt helped plenty of players stay on the field, and thereby helped plenty of owners extract value out of players that would otherwise be sunk cost in a guaranteed contract. Could an ounce of weed be as valuable to a Steinbrenner as a compensation pick is to a small market club?