It's Legal, But...
How will marijuana legalization affect Canadian amateur and professional athletes?
OK, yay! Go Canada, we are finally legal. I mean people abroad thought it already was, so for some it comes as no surprise. Playing over in Europe, many look at me skeptically and ask:
"Wasn't it already legal like 10 years ago?"
I shrug my shoulders and nod no.
For me, I think and can see some major benefits overall for Canada and the newest industry. Medical benefits associated with marijuana have been shown to help manage pain, anxiety, and a whole host of other issues, which is why it has always been labeled as medicinal. Economically, hemp being used in plus of a near dead soft wood lumber industry could bolster exports worldwide—plus the creation of new business, jobs, and the like never hurt a struggling Canada with sky rocketing expenses and living costs.
But, since I am neither a doctor nor an economist that is where I will leave that discussion for now. See, my concern is as an athlete. All professional leagues in any sport treat weed as a bigger crime than domestic violence and assault to name a few. The suspensions handed out in the past of led to games or matches all the way to full year bans. Is the risk to Canadian athletes still going to be there when they decide to compete internationally? Will they even be allowed to compete in the United States anymore? The strict policy to the south leaves us all a little nervous yet jubliant.
The benefits on a personal level of using weed for better sleep, recovery, and pain management breathes new life into a sports world where over-the-counter meds are pushed, addictions to pain pills or alcohol become a known, but not talked about piece of athletics.
As of now, no rule changes have been made within the IOC (International Olympic Committee), nor in any of the professional leagues across North America: the NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB, MSL, CFL, or at the amateur level with USport and the NCAA.
Although weed is a banned substance by the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA), it ranks in the top five as most used by athletes, with alcohol finishing at the top of the list and tobacco falling behind weed. To be real, alcohol is not banned under this ruling, nor is tobacco in many cases. Unlike tobacco—which in small dosages can improve someone's ability to improve concentration as noted in the article "Harnessing Nicotine's Power to Aid Concentration"—marijuana on the other hand does exactly what an athlete would not want physiologically during competition. It increases heart rate and blood pressure while decreasing work capacity. I find that having it as a banned athletic substance for competition is redundant and should be less focused compared to blood doping, steroids and other drugs that can improve performance and be a negative health affect long term.
For now, it looks as if the doping rules will not change. That being said, any athlete caught with weed in their systems during testing will be on the hook for suspensions, fines, a loss of medals, etc. As for professional athletes, this could lead to suspensions from leagues and teams deterring players from taking part in a legal part of society. What type of message does that send? As the perception of weed changes and society as a whole becomes more liberal with its view as a substance, will professional sports follow suit just as quickly or will it take time for this change to occur?
Looking on, the provincial rules and repercussions of purchasing, consuming, and distributing vary greatly per province with Alberta being the most relaxed to Quebec being one of the most strict. This could also play a role in which athletes across the nation may be subjected to different rulings as they compete across the country. What might be OK in Alberta could be an issue in other parts of the country. Looking on a grander scale, athletes competing across the border could be more scrutinized by American border crossing points more heavily than in the past.
What are your thoughts on legalization and the possible effects on athletes? Should it be a concern or should athletes avoid it until it is all sorted out?
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