The ripple effect of Canada legalizing recreational marijuana reaches many cultural institutions. That includes the National Hockey League, which has nine franchises located in Canada. Though marijuana isn’t currently on the league’s banned substances list, meaning players aren’t tested for cannabis usage, will the NHL’s official policy change in any way toward cannabis?
NHLPA executive director Don Fehr was asked just that while attending an NHLPA golf outing. Fehr admitted conversations have occurred internally about Canada’s marijuana legalization and hinted that the NHL and NHLPA may come to an informal agreement regarding player policy. However, we shouldn’t expect any official legal change anytime soon.
“Our policy relating to marijuana remains unchanged despite recent changes to the law in some jurisdictions. Any change in policy would necessitate discussion and agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Athletic via email.
Because the NHL has teams located in states without legalized marijuana of any kind, the NHL would face some serious legal issues should it officially allow players to use marijuana. But as The Athletic reports, a possibility could present itself with regards to medical and therapeutic usage.
As of now, team physicians located in Canada and states in which it is allowed can legally treat players with medical marijuana; however, there may be some practical issues posed and a reluctance to treat using that option given the diverging legal standards among the different cities within the league and the frequent travel across state and country lines. One former NHL trainer also told The Athletic that the NHL’s security division performs an audit on how specific drugs are dispensed, which may also provide pause. It’s possible that an informal agreement between the two sides could help form some sort of guidance.
And that is likely the most logical next step for the NHL and NHLPA to explore — commissioning a scientific study to further examine the potential therapeutic benefits. This would go through the Health and Safety committee and any change in current policy would have to be agreed upon by both the league and NHLPA. While it is believed that there would have to be some proven benefit, it’s also likely that shifting societal norms and attitudes toward marijuana would be considered as part of the calculus.
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The NHL already stands at the forefront of marijuana policies in sports. Any official studies that demonstrate the plant’s effectiveness in treating pain or traumatic brain injury—like the recently discussed cannabis-derived “concussion pill”—could influence the rest of the sport world. Nothing’s confirmed yet. But Canada is already poised to become a research center for studying marijuana, so an NHL/NHLPA partnership on studying these issues doesn’t appear all that ludicrous.