The MLB and the MLB Player’s Association are currently negotiating changes to the league’s drug agreement in an effort to introduce opioid testing. Part of the agreement would see marijuana removed from the league’s list of banned substances for minor league players, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
This is a major shift from the other men’s professional sports leagues in the United States who still have marijuana on the banned substances list.
Players on the 40-man roster are not subjected to testing for marijuana, however, all minor leaguers not on the 40-man roster are tested. Now that minor leaguers will no longer be drug tested for marijuana, drug-related suspensions should decrease in the minor leagues. According to CBS Sports, thirteen minor leaguers were suspended in 2019 for marijuana.
With already poor wages (the average salary for a minor league baseball player ranged from around $6,000 in Single-A to around $9,350 in Double-A to nearly $15,000 in Triple-A in 2018 according to The Athletic), marijuana-related suspensions do nothing but limit the opportunity for aspiring minor leaguers. Players who are suspended because of marijuana would have to sacrifice part of their already egregiously low salary, potentially preventing athletes from taking care of their economic needs.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the poverty line in 2019 is $12,490. The highest-paid minor leaguers ($15,000) are slightly above the poverty line, whereas the rest are all significantly below the poverty line. Most minor leaguers have to live off roughly $1000 dollars a month. Former minor leaguer Jeremy Wolf once said, “I’d work 70 hours a week, and I would get paid $45 per game, so that comes out to like $3 an hour.”
The MLB lobbied millions of dollars over the last few years to get the “Save America’s Pastime Act” passed by Congress in 2018. The act stripped minor leaguers of their protection to federal minimum wage laws. Players wouldn’t be eligible for overtime pay or get paid for Spring Training. The Act significantly limits the labor rights of minor leaguers and allows the MLB to pay their workers even less than the minimum wage.
With such serious labor issues facing minor league baseball players, removing marijuana from the banned substances list is a small victory for labor rights, as employers can no longer punish their employees for using the recreational drug.
Marijuana, which is not a performance-enhancing drug, benefits ballplayers off the field. Baseball statistician Ryan Spaeder tweeted “Got a text from a (Major League) ballplayer: “The main reason I use it. Without it, I would be up until 7-8 in the morning. There were times I would stay up all night and go play an 11 o’clock day game after a night game.” Marijuana allowed this particular athlete to deal with the rigors of the baseball schedule and helped him fall asleep to prepare for his next game.
With Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs overdosing on opioids mid-season and Minnesota Twins minor leaguer Ryan Costello dying from “natural causes” at age 23, the MLB is attempting to address the league’s opioid problem. According to CBS Sports, “Under the new program, players who test positive for opioids would be put into a treatment program rather than suspended.” Instead of punishing athletes for opioid use, the MLB is doing the right thing by attempting to treat their athletes instead. Athletes abusing opioids will be more willing to seek help if they know that they wouldn’t get punished for it.
Removing marijuana from the banned substances list can potentially decrease opioid abuse. Baseball players will be able to turn to marijuana for pain relief and muscle relaxation instead of the incredibly addictive and potentially harmful opioids. According to the CDC, on average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. The legalization of marijuana will provide a non-deadly alternative to combat pain for baseball players and prevent future athletes from overdosing.
With such unfair labor conditions facing minor leaguers- removing marijuana from the banned substances list is a small victory for labor rights in baseball. With poverty-level wages and the threat of 40 minor league teams being eliminated, minor leaguers actually benefit from the proposed changes to the MLB’s drug agreement. With players no longer being suspended for opioids and marijuana, their labor rights have increased. Yet, there is still much to be done in the fight for improved labor conditions for minor leaguers.