MLB, NBA, and NFL’s Policy on Cannabis

Cannabis in Sports

For Professional Athletes, access to Cannabis comes as easy as snapping their finger and in no way should that surprise you. Pro-athletes often achieve success and financial prosperity years before others in their age bracket. They often have resources and entourages at their disposal, placing their every want and need on their doorstep. Consequently the four major professional sports in the United States (NBA,NFL, MLB,NHL) have taken notice. However, none of the leagues or player associations have been able to unify their policing of Cannabis. They all enforce different regulations punishments. The following is a breakdown and analysis of the current systems in place.

MLB’s Policy on Cannabis

Let’s start with the most polished of all the sports, Major League Baseball, where Cannabis (specifically marijuana) is listed as a Schedule 1 stimulant. What’s interesting is that Cannabis is first on the list, above cocaine, PCP and the rest; but I’ll leave that fact for you to draw your own conclusions on.

After tediously combing through all 75 pages of the 2015 MLB Drug Test Policy, it breaks down like this:

First Infraction – Subject to Follow-up Testing (Yes that’s it!)

Second Infraction – 25 Game Suspension

Third Infraction – 80 Game Suspension

Fourth Infraction – Banned from League (Commissioners Discretion)

NBA’s Policy on Cannabis

While MLB spreads testing across a multitude of substances, the NBA has been more centrally focused on Cannabis testing. Past reasoning being that HGH and other performance enhancing substances are perceived to be less valuable to the skill set of the NBA player, as illogical and unproven as that may sound. The NBA is, however, attempting to keep up with the Jones’ as they are set to initiate a performance enhancing drug (PED) test policy beginning in the 2016 season.

First Infraction – Mandatory Completion of Substance Abuse treatment

Second Infraction – $25,000 Fine – No Suspension

Third Infraction – 5 Game Suspension

Fourth Infraction – 10 Games (5 More Games for Each Positive Test Thereafter)

The adoption of a PED policy years after Cannabis testing was put in place, while a positive step, highlights the unique social perceptions separating Cannabis and PED’s, especially pertaining to the business of professional sports. The bottom line being that, until recently, Cannabis was viewed simply on the recreational side of the coin. As medical advancements continue to be uncovered, the NBA may discover that medical Cannabis, when applied responsibly and professionally, can actually improve the product on the court by allowing players access to a medicine that is without chemicals or toxins. Exclusion of these chemicals and poisons could actually act to elongate professional careers due to the proven health benefits on the liver and kidneys among other organs affected by extended painkiller use.

NFL’s Policy on Cannabis

Unlike the NBA and MLB, the NFL has actually taken recent steps to lessen punishment for positive Cannabis tests(See Josh Gordon). A tangible example of this was the raising of the threshold for a positive test from 15 nanograms per milliliter to 35ng/ml. In addition the NFL uses suspension as a last resort, coming into effect after the fourth positive test. That shouldn’t surprise anyone given that the NFL, more than any other sport, does everything it can to keep players on the field. Here is the NFL breakdown:

First Infraction – Mandatory Rehabilitation Program

Second Infraction – 2 Game Fine (Can Play Un-Paid)

Third Infraction – 4 Game Fine (Can Play Un-Paid)

Fourth Infraction – 4 Game Suspension

Fifth Infraction – 10 Game Suspension

While the NBA, NFL, and MLB all have policies set in stone, there is one league out there that is actually Cannabis friendly, the NHL. That’s right, the NHL does NOT include Cannabis on its list of banned substances. Meaning that, as long as your public conduct is not detrimental to the league(ie arrests, DUI’s) you can feel free to hit and run all you want, the pipe that is.

That’s right, the NHL does NOT include Cannabis on its list of banned substances.

So there it is, the most up to date listing of Cannabis testing in major professional sports. Each league has its own views on the Cannabis issue and guidelines on what constitutes a positive test. It is important to remember that professional sports tend to employ a business first mentality. While the first offenses may be standard, in most cases multiple time offenders will be judged in accordance to the commissioner of their league. Considering the politics and business of sports, be prepared to see player banishment handled on a case-by-case basis, based on popularity and time of the season. After all, when it comes to the business of sports, cash rules everything.

What are your thoughts on these players association’s stance on cannabis? Comment below…

Photo Credit: Abigail Keenan

  • Just Right Races

    Great piece! I’ve read up on this topic from the perspective of sports that follow the WADA-USADA guidelines. Over the course of my reading I’ve been bemused and dismayed at the maze of rules and punishments that amateur athletes and those in USADA/WADA-governed sports have to navigate.

    College athletes have to contend with the NCAA and their school, which in many cases contradict each other. An athlete that competes in college and goes to the Olympics could have WADA, the NCAA and their institution to answer to. Then there are professional “clubs” like the Nike Oregon Project (recently in the news for doping) that possibly have corporate policies to follow on top of a sport’s governing body.

    Going back to American professional sports, imagine what a two-sport athlete like Bo Jackson would’ve had to contend with. What if he consumed during the overlap between early football season and the MLB post-season, and both sports caught him? Who gets “jurisdiction”?

    That may be a far-fetched scenario, but it goes to show that if sports bodies can’t be consistent on the use of cannabis then let it go.

  • Tim Strombel

    I think you bring up some good points on the disparity between the major sports in America, not to mention larger governing bodies like the Olympics. Purely talking about US sports, it’s very interesting to see the discrepancy from league to league in regards to policy and enforcement. I don’t see any of the policies changing in the near future, especially till more progress is made with federal legislation. I truly think the leagues are aware of the medical benefits to the players, but there is simply too much social stigma and conflict within the laws to allow it. It will certainly be interesting to follow future negotiations and we will be updating this article as news come out!!

  • Just Right Races

    The federal status is indeed a key piece of getting cannabis off the banned lists. If the NIH (and possibly the USOC or USADA themselves) could get money to do proper research on cannabis’ effects in athletes I bet it would provide some legitimacy the leagues are waiting for. Thanks for bringing this topic into discussion.

  • Mark Tele

    I am now an official fan of the NHL!
    Cannabis has medicinal properties that can help athletes deal with various injuries without using harmful drugs. I use it for repetitive strain. Do any of these leagues test for excessive alcohol use? – it’s certainly more of a problem, has side-effects, can be addictive and has very little medicinal value.

  • Mark. First off thanks for the comment. As far as I know policies among these sports are more reactive than proactive. Meaning unless someone gets a DUI or something related, I don’t see any systems in place for punishment. However, once a player breaks the law in an alcohol related case, I do believe leagues institute follow up testing as I’ve seen examples in MLB and the NFL. I’ll follow up with more information as it evolves!

  • Calegero Desierto

    Good job Team Cashinbis! Keep this coming.

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