Marijuana in sport

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Is it a PED?

By Davie Wong, Sports Editor

Marijuana’s 21st century boom has led to the reformation of the medicinal drug industry. With its booming popularity, and growing legalization, it will be interesting to see whether cross-border sports such as hockey, baseball, and even football, will be embracing the new craze.

At the moment, marijuana is seen as a painkiller of sorts. Although touted as non-addictive, unlike other painkillers that are legalized, there has been a multi-year long on-going debate on the subject. Nonetheless, the new breakthr0ughs in the field of medical marijuana have led to its resurgence as the discreet painkiller of choice amongst athletes.

Discreet is the key word there, as nearly all the professional sport associations have banned the use of marijuana in any form, including the NFL, MLB, and NBA. Each has their own policies for dealing with offenders, but none more so than the NFL. In the 2015 season alone, 19 players were suspended for a cumulative total of 70 games for breaching the substance abuse policy.

These restrictive policies were put in place before the 21st century breakthroughs, when it was still thought the marijuana usage enhanced athletic performance. This could not be farther from the truth, as research has now shown that marijuana usage impairs performance and the ability to focus. While the painkilling effect is still relevant, the loss of the ability to focus, and the impairment of overall performance makes for the use of marijuana to be quite detrimental to athletes in the middle of a game.

As for its use outside of a game setting, marijuana is a painkiller similar to the opioids painkillers that are legally issued to athletes. Those opioids are a derivative of the poppy, and have been nicknamed the pharmaceutical heroin. Along with the nickname, the addictive trend of heroin has followed it. The leagues that have banned the use of medicinal marijuana encourage the use of opioid painkillers instead. It is quite the hypocrisy.

So what is the future of marijuana usage in sport? One could hope that the associations legalize medical marijuana usage right away, but that would be a jump. Instead, let’s look a league that has a much different policy regarding marijuana usage.

The NHL has a much more liberal policy regarding recreational drug use. Players must submit to a drug and PED test at the beginning of the season. Players that fail the PED test are punished without question, but the result of players failing the recreational drug test is both the NHL and players union reaching out to offer aid to the player. While the league has no punishment policy in place for marijuana usage, most teams have their own “clubhouse” rules.

While this means that marijuana users in the NHL still run the risk of punishment, it will never be direct punishment from the league. This is a much different picture than the other associations that have banned the use of marijuana. Perhaps this is even the future of sport leagues and their view towards recreational drugs.

With the imminent legalization of marijuana in Canada, sport associations associated with Canada will have to make a decision. More than likely, things will begin to look more similar to the NHL, with leagues only monitoring usage to offer treatment if needed, instead of moderating the activities of players. For the CFL in particular, this could mean a boon of NFL talent, as suspended players due to the substance abuse policy could make their way north to the more green-friendly leagues.

While this in no way fixes any associations’ marijuana usage policy, it sure puts a lot of pressure on them to change—a change that would be for the better, as the restriction policies are only in place because it was once thought that marijuana was a PED.