Was Jonathan Singleton's suspension too harsh?

H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY

One of the Astros' top prospects was suspended 50 games for a marijuana-related violation. How does that make any sense?

I'm not a lawyer. I used to be a property manager, which meant that I thought I was a lawyer, and when I'd get sued, I'd realize, "Say, I'm not a lawyer! I'm terrible at this! So many rules!" But here goes.

Astros prospect Jonathan Singleton was suspended 50 games for performance-minimizing drugs. PMDs as they're known in the industry. Specifically, marijuana. But Nathan Aderhold of MLB Daily Dish pointed out something funny about the suspension. Here's the official site of the Major League Baseball Players Association. On the site, there's a link to the Joint Drug Agreement, which has a section devoted to "Marijuana, Hashish, and Synthetic THC violations."

Except as set forth in Sections 3.C.2, 4.A or 4.B, Players shall not be subject to testing for any Drugs of Abuse.

3.C.2 is about if the player gives reasonable cause to suspect he's using "Drugs of abuse." That might include erratic behavior, a funny-smelling jacket, or a Pauly Shore movie in the locker. Both 4.A and and 4.B have to do with testing after the initial discovery.

So the first thing to note is that it's odd for a player to get popped at all. Jordan Schafer was arrested for possession of marijuana, but it's pretty rare for a player to be suspended for pot use. Mostly because MLB doesn't test for it. And the penalty for a drug of abuse:

A Player will be referred to the Treatment Board as a result of the use or suspected use of a Drug of Abuse.

The Treatment Board seems to be exactly what you would expect -- something that's more about rehabilitation than punishment. And if you don't comply with the program set forth by the Board, there are consequences:

First failure to comply: At least a 15-game but not more than a 25-game suspension

Ah, but that's for the scary stuff. After that section, there's another part:

A Player on a Treatment Program for the use or possession of Marijuana, Hashish or Synthetic THC shall not be subject to suspension.

The knee-jerk reaction to the news of Singleton's suspension was twofold: 1. Nice going, Singleton, you goofball, and 2. Way to use Nevada state law circa 1969 as the template for your drug policy, baseball. Fifty games for weed? That's the same kind of suspension that Melky Cabrera got for testosterone. That's over seven times what Delmon Young got for a drunken, slur-laced scuffle. That's over infinity times what players get for drunk-driving arrests. How does that prioritization make any sense?

Except according to the Joint Drug Agreement, baseball doesn't make a big deal about marijuana. Not only does it distinguish it from PEDs and the like, but it also puts them on a lower tier compared to other drugs of abuse, like cocaine and heroin.

Which all means that there's something else to the story. Under all of those clauses and subclauses, there's this

Notwithstanding the foregoing, if the Treatment Board concludes that a Player has demonstrated flagrant disregard for his Treatment Program, either by refusing to submit to an Initial Evaluation or by failing to comply with a Treatment Program, or if the Commissioner determines that the Player’s use of Marijuana, Hashish or Synthetic THC represents a threat to the safety of other Players, the Player shall be subjected to discipline for just cause by the Commissioner without regard to the limitations on discipline contained in this Section 7.D.

It would be irresponsible to pretend like we know what a "threat to the safety of other Players" might mean. Could be something to do with moving vehicles, could be something to do with LARPing "Duck Hunt" when high and telling a teammate that it's his turn to be the laughing dog.

The main point is this: From here, it looks like there's something unique about Jonathan Singleton. We've railed against harsh marijuana-related penalties before, but it looks like I didn't have the penalties for marijuana straight when I wrote that, and when it comes to Singleton there's something more going on. Padres prospect Donovan Tate was suspended for 50 games, too, but only after a second flunked test after he was in a treatment program.

The question posed in the headline will have to remain a rhetorical one. Was Jonathan Singleton's suspension too harsh? Unless we have all the information, or at least a reason for why he qualified for a special penalty, there's no way to know.

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