Drug Policy in the World of Sports

This week I have two articles to share about drug policies in professional sports. The first article is about the rules around marijuana use in the MLB and the second article is about potential new rules in the NFL. With the widespread legalization of marijuana across the country and the dangers of some opioids, it is apparent these sports leagues are taking all of this into consideration. The reality is the world is changing and employers are adjusting. Since each league is an employer and the players are employees, their changes are potential lessons in the management of workplaces and workers’ compensation everywhere. Below you’ll find these articles and my thoughts on their implications.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed below are those of Mark Pew, Senior Vice President of Product Development and Marketing, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Preferred Medical.

MLB reminds teams it can still punish players for marijuana use

While the MLB officially removed marijuana from their banned substance list, they still are following strict rules around the drug’s use. Players are still subject to discipline should they use or possess marijuana, especially those who break existing marijuana laws including possession, distribution or driving under the influence. Ultimately, just because the MLB removed marijuana from the banned list does not mean they are advocating for its use.

Mark’s Thoughts:
You may have thought Major League Baseball was cool with cannabis. Not so fast my friends…

“Marijuana may have been removed from Major League Baseball’s banned substances list over the offseason, but that doesn’t mean the league is totally open to its players smoking pot…MLB still holds the right to punish players who break existing marijuana laws like possession, distribution or driving under the influence…Any player or team personnel who ‘appear under the influence of marijuana or any other cannabinoid during any of the Club’s games, practices, workouts, meetings or otherwise during the course and within the scope of their employment [will undergo a] mandatory evaluation’ for a treatment program, the league said in the memo… [teams are] prohibited from prescribing, dispensing or recommending the use of marijuana or any other cannabinoid.”

MLB = Employer, Players = Employees. Just like ANY workplace (and certainly ANY Workers Comp environment), an employer can always have the expectation of a drug-free / impairment-free workplace. But how that is represented in policy is changing.

New NFL CBA would eliminate suspensions for positive drug tests, marijuana included

A new rule has been proposed to the NFL – suspension will not be the first tactic in dealing with players who test positive for drugs. This is the case for every substance of potential abuse, from opioids to marijuana. Instead of suspension, violators would be fined, the amount dependent on various factors. Advocates of this proposed change say that marijuana is a safer alternative to opioids as players manage their pain from playing football, not a new argument.

Mark’s Thoughts:
The National Football League’s Players Association has until March 14 to decide whether to approve the new Collective Bargaining Agreement proposed by the NFL owners. Media speculates it’s a 50/50 proposition at this point. One of the changes that should be of interest to all employers (NFL = Employer, Players = Employees) is the relaxation of the drug testing policy (including marijuana). Not that testing is being discontinued, but that the repercussions to a positive test are being lowered. Instead of not being allowed to play (suspended) they will lose money—you can see the matrix in this article for how that is computed. There is also an escalation to “specific clinical intervention and/or treatment.” Players have been making the argument for several years that cannabis is less dangerous than the Rx opioids teams were providing to them and therefore this concession is (at least indirectly) a response to that. As it turns out, professional sports leagues are adjusting drug policies to the evolving reality of society and workforce. That is consistent with every other employer out there. Well, not every employer—only those that are paying attention. What is your risk management strategy?

To read everything on my mind this past week, please visit me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/marks-musings-march-9-mark-rxprofessor-pew/.

Until Next Week,