Pro sports and weed: Where’s the line?
By Dan Khavkin and Sajan Jabbal, Sports Editor and Staff Writer
With marijuana being legal across Canada, many Canadians are wondering about how it will effect the rules and regulations of professional sports.
The Canadian Center for Ethics in Sports (CCES), administers the Canadian anti-doping program, a program that is in a constant fight against banned substances. CCES is one of the signatories to the world’s anti-doping code.
“The CCES follows the world prohibited list and Marijuana is on that list,” said communication manager Meghan Cummings.
“Athletes have to make choices that are educated. If they are smoking marijuana , it’s at their own risk because they are responsible for anything that is found in their sample,” said Cummings.
“It’s called strict liability, using the stuff banned on the list.”
Most professional sports leagues like the National hockey league (NHL), the Canadian Football League (CFL) and the Western Hockey League (WHL), have their own regulations on doping and drug use.
“A lot of professional leagues have their own programs and what’s on their list of prohibited substances is maybe different from our list,” Cummings commented.
The CFL has not been too concerned about the effect that legalization will have on its players. Being the only professional sports league that is solely based in Canada, the CFL is unique and not everybody fully knows how marijuana will affect the league.
In a statement from the league, the CFL comments they are like many businesses and employers because they are still working to assess the potential impact of the legalization of marijuana as a workplace would.
“We expect all of our employees, those working in our business offices as well as those who compete on the field, to act responsibly and in compliance with the law. That obviously includes not coming to work impaired from any substance. We have faith our employees will display that sort of common sense,” the statement read.
“This is uncharted territory, of course, but at this point it appears the effect on the CFL will be minimal.”
This makes the CFL one of the only leagues that doesn’t consider marijuana a banned substance.
Commissioner of the CFL Randy Ambrosie seems to be more interested in seeing the medical benefits, rather than worrying about the recreational aspect, as he said in an interview with Sportsnet.
“We don’t drug test for marijuana, that’s not been a central issue for us,” said Ambrosie.
“Where we have spent a lot of our time thinking about it from a medical perspective. We’re seeing a crisis in North America for opioids and the devastation that they can often create if they are not used properly,” Ambrose said to Sportsnet. “We are hearing some early signs that doctors think that [medical marijuana] is a long term solution in part, to the use of opioids. We want to make sure that we’re really watching for an opportunity to support potentially a solution to the opioid crisis.”
According to Ambrosie, the CFL is still finding a way to bend its way around potential sponsorship concerns. “We are working to learn and understand the impact of government regulations, which are still evolving on the sports and entertainment industry.”
The NHL has been very specific about what their rules and regulations are, but punishment for drug use is mostly up to the coaches discretion.
However, the league is not doing much to change rules and regulations.
“The Substance Abuse & Behavioral Health Program for decades has been educating players on using drugs, legal or illegal,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said in an interview with TSN. “That process will continue and we will consider what changes, if any, in our program have to be made. But right now, we think based on the educational level and what we do test for and how we test, at least for the time being, we’re comfortable with where we are.”
Players, however, seem eager to discover the health benefits from using medical marijuana and even recreational marijuana to their advantage.
Now retired, professional hockey player Riley Cote is able to open up about the ways he would medicate himself during the regular season.
Being an enforcer in the game, Cote had to deal with injury after injury, which ends up being an issue with the number of prescription drugs being taken. Cote was able to use cannabis as a second option for pain relief.
“I started noticing some therapeutic benefits,” Cote said in an interview with TSN. “It helped me sleep, helped with my anxiety and general well-being.”
But Cote is not the only player who is supportive of marijuana being used to improve well-being.
Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid, is also interested in how THC and CBD can be used for the benefit of the players.
“I say this more talking about the CBD side of it: obviously you’d be stupid not to at least look into it,” said McDavid in the locker room after a game on Oct. 20. “When your body’s sore like it is sometimes, you don’t want to be taking pain stuff and taking Advil all the time. There’s obviously better ways to do it. You’re seeing a lot of smart guys look into it. You’re seeing a lot of really smart doctors look into it. If all the boxes are checked there and it’s safe and everything like that, then I think you would maybe hear them out.”
Not everyone is on board with this new mentality. Unlike the CFL for example, medical professionals including family physician Raj Sharma, are very skeptical of the recreational and medical use of marijuana.
“There was a good review that came out and that data shows that the evidence is not great for many conditions,” explained Sharma. “For chemotherapy induced nausea or something like that, maybe it would work, but for pain it’s not a great option.”
Sharma, who is not convinced of the beneficial evidence of marijuana, feels that it may become an even larger problem now that it is legalized.
“Smoking is always a risk on the body,” Sharma said. “In terms of recreational use compared to alcohol, there’s still a risk of impairment.”
Although the WHL is not a professional league, it is the foundation for the 15-20 year olds who look to advance their hockey careers to either the many professional and other variations of hockey careers that range from the minor leagues, to the university level.
Their approach to the legalization of marijuana however, is contrary to that of the CFL.
The WHL states, “Though cannabis will be legalized in Canada on October 17, 2018, it remains a banned substance under the CHL Drug Education & Anti-Doping Program.”
“That policy is very clear for the players – they cannot participate in any use of cannabis or other performance-enhancing drugs,” said WHL Commissioner Ron Robison. “Consequently, it is incumbent on us to make sure we have a very effective education program to make sure the players are aware of that, first of all, and to really help promote a healthy lifestyle.”
Many of the players in the WHL are underage, not yet reaching the legal consumption age of 18. This could turn into an issue, because if an underage player is consuming marijuana, they are not only breaking the league rules, they are breaking the law as well.
Sharma thinks that this is something that needs to be worked on and needs to be restricted more than the current legislation.
“I think it should be regulated both provincially and federally,” said Sharma. “Jurisdictions should be able to have a say as to what happens in their region, and abide by both provincial and federal laws.”
Although marijuana is now legal across Canada, there are still many questions as to how this is going to play for the rules, regulations and opinions of professional sports teams and players.