Sports and pain go hand in hand. But then again, so do opioid painkillers and addiction. This is one of the primary reasons the discussion of allowing professional athletes to access medical marijuana has become so prevalent over the past few years. Many former players have come to suggest that cannabis, a mostly illegal substance, has allowed them to manage the symptoms of being knocked around throughout the game better than any of the prescription narcotics shoved down their throats at every turn. Some even claim that cannabis has helped them pull out of the grips of opioid addiction.
The only problem is most of the leagues are not prepared to embrace the concept of using medical marijuana because it remains an outlaw substance at the federal level in the United States. But now that Canada has legalized the leaf nationwide for recreational use, a report from the Athletic indicates that more players involved with the National Hockey League (NHL) may soon be given permission to use marijuana.
National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) Executive Director Don Fehr recently told reporters that the league has been casually discussing the possibility of allowing all players to consume marijuana — regardless of whether it is for medicinal or recreational purposes.
The NHL, which is considered one of the most pot-progressive among the four leading sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL) already allows doctors in Canada and legal states to treat players with medical marijuana. None of the other leagues have this policy.
But as of October, Canada, home to seven of the 31 NHL franchises, will give adults 18 and older the freedom to possess, cultivate and buy marijuana at retail dispensaries in a manner similar to alcohol.
While the league says “our policy relating to marijuana remains unchanged despite recent changes to the law in some jurisdictions,” it admits that some amendments could be on the horizon.
Still, this in no way means the NHL is prepared to fully unleash players into the world of recreational use anytime soon. The league’s deputy commission Bill Daly says, “Any change in policy would necessitate discussion and agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA.”
Nevertheless, the most important takeaway from the piece is that the league seems to be on the verge of disregarding marijuana use altogether. NHLPA spokesperson Jonathan Weatherdon claims, “it’s something the NHLPA and the league have discussed and discussed as recently as the Health and Safety committee meetings earlier this summer.”
But let’s be clear — unlike other sports organizations, the NHL really doesn’t give two flying squirts about marijuana in the first place. For starters, it is not included on the league’s list of banned drugs, nor is it part of the drug testing regimen set out to discover players who might be using performance-enhancing supplements. The NHL really only makes noise about marijuana when a player is getting too stoned and acting recklessly. Even then, the league’s disciplinary action for this behavior is geared toward rehabilitation, not suspensions and fines, like some of the other leagues. So, without even changing the rules, players can actually smoke, eat, drink all the cannabis products they want and never find themselves at risk of losing their career. Chances are these players would never even see the inside of a rehab facility.
But the current NHL policy serves as a shield, of sorts, that prevents the league from facing any legal consequences in states where prohibition is still the law of the land.
There is speculation that the league could step up its game, however, and launch a study to find out more about the therapeutic benefits of marijuana. This might be what needs to happen before the NHL and NHLPA are able to reach an official agreement on an appropriate pot policy.
The NHL is currently facing a major lawsuit in which 150 players are screaming negligence over head trauma. Some anecdotal studies have shown the herb is effective in healing these injuries. There have even been some recent clinical trials on a cannabinoid-based “Concussion Pill” that is showing some promise. As more of this type of research emerges, the sports community, as a whole, will undoubtedly be forced to take an updated position on marijuana. But the U.S government will need to lift some of its restriction on the cannabis plant before they can comfortably move forward.
TELL US, do you think sports leagues should allow players to use cannabis?