With each passing election cycle, recreational marijuana use has become more widely legalized. Eight states—Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington—and the District of Columbia each allow its citizens to purchase and use pot for non-medicinal purposes. Of those eight states, only Alaska is without a minor league team. All of this begs the question: If the minor leagues are about making money, might fans of teams in these states soon see advertisements for marijuana dispensaries in their local stadiums?
The answer, so far, seems to be no, for a variety of reasons. First, of those eight states, just three—California, Oregon and Washington—have had the laws on the books long enough for marijuana dispensaries to get up and running. The remaining states plan to have dispensaries up and running by 2018. Even then, minor league teams are unlikely to pursue advertisements from those establishments. That’s because, although there is no list of products teams are prohibited from advertising in their parks, the league wants its clubs to focus on products that fall in line with its image.
“We have not prohibited any specific categories and our clubs have not done anything to make us think that we need to,” MiLB president Pat O’Conner said in an email. “(But) advertising for any goods or services that are inconsistent with family-friendly entertainment would be a concern.”
To this point, no team has attempted to advertise something that would come in conflict with that image. Club executives still believe advertising pot is a a line they’re unwilling to cross, even as the drug has gained more widespread acceptance in recent years.
The Eugene Register-Guard recently reported there are 88 marijuana dispensaries either open or scheduled to open soon, in Lane County, Ore., where short-season Eugene, a Cubs affiliate, plays. Even in one of the most weed-friendly areas in the country, though, there won’t be ads for pot shops popping up around PK Park.
“We’re not for or against (recreational use), but at the same time, we’re not pursuing it,” Ems general manager Allan Benavides said. “We’re not going to seek out that business or look for those advertising dollars.”
Massachusetts is one of the states where the drug is legal for use, but there aren’t any shops open yet. Until then, Bay Staters will have to get their supply off the street. That delay also gives clubs, such as the short-season Lowell Spinners, a Red Sox affiliate, time to ponder their policy. Even with the extra year, however, don’t count on seeing Lowell-area dispensaries advertising at LeLacheur Park in the coming years.
“At this time, we have other areas we’re committed to focusing on,” an executive with the Spinners said. “And we have other interests at this moment.”
That is the position MiLB hopes its clubs continue to take. O’Conner has been forthright about wanting to be a states-rights commissioner rather than one who makes widespread pronouncements and rules involving teams. That said, if the league has to act, it will.
“Our clubs have shown good judgment on these types of issues generally,” O’Conner said. “We want to maintain a family-friendly environment and marijuana ads don't belong in our ballparks.”
During conversations about the potential for marijuana advertisements at ballparks in the future, the question was raised about the difference between marijuana and alcohol, in terms of maintaining the family-friendly feel. Alcohol is freely advertised and sold in nearly every ballpark in the country, despite the fact that it is universally illegal for purchase and consumption by people under 21 years old. The difference, however, is that, despite the fact that several states allow recreational marijuana use, it is still illegal under federal laws.
Moreover, it is a banned substance under Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Agreement. Players can and do incur lengthy suspensions for testing positive for marijuana.
“I think the thing to remember here is that alcohol, for those of legal age, is not illegal according to the federal government,” O’Conner said. “Additionally, the use of alcohol by players and coaches over the age of 21 is not against baseball rules. The use of marijuana by players and coaches is prohibited under the applicable drug and alcohol policy.”
When it comes down to it, Minor League Baseball has worked hard over the years to maintain its wholesome appeal. It believes that even broaching the topic of marijuana advertisements in its ballparks, no matter if the substance is legal everywhere else in the state, will tarnish that image. So for now, the only hits at the old ballgame will be found in the box score.