NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly has declared that the league has no intention of changing its cannabis policy when Canada legalizes marijuana.
It’s not on the list of banned substances for pro hockey players, because it is not considered performance enhancing, but they are tested for THC and they receive a stern dressing down from league officials if they fail a screening.
Yet former Philadelphia Flyers enforcer and cannabis advocate Riley Cote claims that half of all NHL stars consume marijuana. There have been calls for the league to stop condoning cannabis, but Daly quashed such hopes in an interview this week.
He said the current approach would remain in place, pointing out that players do not receive a suspension for failing a cannabis screening. He added that the league is planning to increase efforts to educate players about the details of its stance, which is the most progressive of all the major sports leagues.
Players found to have THC in their system are not revealed publicly, but they can be put forward for a mandatory assessment by doctors, who in turn can refer them to mandatory substance-abuse treatment.
The NHL and NHLPA’s Performance Enhancing Substances Program Committee considers the stats around THC and cannabinoids use each year and decides how it wants to proceed.
Hockey is a tough, physical, demanding sport, and Cote says marijuana helps players manage pain and anxiety. They often have to deal with concussions, pucks to the ankle and blows to the head when things get heated, so there is a demand for pain relief.
There are seven Canadian teams in the NHL, and Colorado – home of the Avalanche – has also legalized cannabis. But players on those teams still face obstacles if they want to enjoy marijuana.
“As a former professional ice hockey player, I endured multiple injuries during my career and am no stranger to pain,” said former Stanley Cup winner Jeff Friesen in an op-ed piece. “Passion for the sport pushes players well past their physical boundaries time and time again, in a perpetual cycle of pain and prescription pills. To continue playing, I required a myriad of drugs, or so I was told by every doctor I visited.
“Just over eleven years ago, I obtained a medical marijuana card to treat my pain with cannabis. It was a last resort, but truthfully, it should have been my first, potentially saving me valuable time and energy. My miraculous experience with medical cannabis allowed me to stop taking pharmaceuticals altogether, almost immediately.”
Friesen said he is now free of negative side effects of pharmaceuticals and he feels physically and mentally focused again, declaring that cannabis transformed his life. Cote backs up his points, arguing that cannabis gives users a better quality of life than things like alcohol, opioids, sleeping pills. The clamour is therefore growing for cannabis to be embraced by the league, and there may be increasing pressure on it to change its stance in the not too distant future.