The MLB is now reportedly allowing baseball teams in the league to sell sponsorships to cannabis companies that market CBD products, as long as they meet certain criteria.
MLB has been among the more progressive professional sports organizations in the U.S. when it comes to marijuana, and this reported development represents another example of how the baseball league is normalizing cannabis.
In order for a team to sell a CBD sponsorship, Sports Business Journal first reported, a prospective company’s products must be certified by NSF International, a consumer safety and product-testing organization that sports leagues use, and the club must also receive authorization from the MLB commissioner’s office.
The move was announced by the league in a conference call with team marketers on Tuesday.
MLB Chief Revenue Officer Noah Garden said that while certain cannabis brands have reached out about getting their CBD products certified, none have received that status yet, the sports news outlet reported.
“None of them are there yet, although around three to five [brands] are in process,” he was quoted as saying.
“We’ve been watching this category for a while and waiting for it to mature to the point where we can get comfortable with it,” the MLB official said. “Our fans are very much the kind of customers they are looking for, and we like being first. It’s a good opportunity for us and the clubs.”
“The last few companies that came to see us about this, the process of NSF certification was embraced,” Garden added. “That gave us a comfort level to be able to move forward.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to MLB for comment and clarification about the CBD sponsorship policy, but a representative did not immediately respond.
MLB has stood out among other professional sports leagues as more willing to respond to the changing marijuana policy landscape. For example, it clarified in a memo in 2020 that players will not be punished for using cannabis while they aren’t working, but they can’t be personally sponsored by a marijuana company or hold investments in the industry.
The league also said at the time that it was teaming with NSF International to analyze and certify legal, contaminant-free CBD products in order to allow teams to store them on club premises. It’s unclear if this latest development is directly related to that collaboration.
The update built upon MLB’s decision in 2019 to remove cannabis from the league’s list of banned substances. Before that rule change, players who tested positive for THC were referred to mandatory treatment, and failure to comply carried a fine of up to $35,000. That penalty is now gone.
The policies are the result of negotiations between MLB and its players union. Both parties agreed to approach the league’s drug policy with an emphasis on treatment rather than penalties. Players who test positive for opioids or cocaine, for example, will be penalized only if they refuse treatment.
A number of athletic governance bodies have recently relaxed rules around cannabinoids as laws change and medical applications become more widely accepted.
For example, students athletes that are part of the NCAA would no longer automatically lose their eligibility to play following a positive marijuana test under rules that are were recommended by a key committee earlier this year.
The conversation around drug testing and professional sports came to the fore last summer after U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended from the Olympics over a positive THC test. She admitted to using cannabis in a legal state after learning of her mother’s passing.
The runner said that she’d feel “blessed and proud” if the attention her case raised would affect a policy change for other athletes. Even the White House and President Joe Biden himself weighed in on the case, suggesting that there’s a question about whether the marijuana ban should “remain the rules.”
Meanwhile, the NFL’s drug testing policy already changed demonstrably in 2020 as part of a collective bargaining agreement.
NFL players no longer face the possibility of being suspended from games over positive tests for any drug—not just marijuana—under a collective bargaining agreement. Instead, they will face a fine. The threshold for what constitutes a positive THC test was also increased under the deal.
The NBA announced in late 2020 that was extending its policy of not randomly drug testing players for marijuana through the 2021-2022 season. The association said it wouldn’t be subjecting players to random drug testing for THC; however, they will continue to test “for cause” cases where players have histories of substance use.
Marijuana icon Snoop Dogg, who was featured at the Super Bowl halftime show this year where an ad separately aired that indirectly supported legalization, argued that sports leagues need to stop testing players for marijuana and allow to them to use it as an alternative to prescription opioids.
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