Legalization In Canada Could Have A Big Impact On Pro Sports Leagues

Both the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB) have a team located in Toronto, Canada (Raptors and Blue Jays, respectively). In the past there was also an NBA team in Vancouver (the Grizzlies, now in Memphis) and a MLB team in Montreal (the Expos, now the Washington Nationals). A significant number of athletes that compete in other leagues cross back and forth between the United States/Canadian border for competition purposes, in addition to those in the MLB and NBA.

Because of these factors, a big shift in cannabis policy in Canada would be a big deal to professional sports leagues that are based in America, especially if American policy didn’t evolve along with Canada’s. Canada’s government recently announced a goal date to implement cannabis legalization for adult use, which is something that has been talked about often ever since Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015. Per CBC:

The Liberal government will announce legislation next month that will legalize marijuana in Canada by July 1, 2018.

CBC News has learned that the legislation will be announced during the week of April 10 and will broadly follow the recommendation of a federally appointed task force that was chaired by former liberal Justice Minister Anne McLellan.

The legal age for cannabis consumption in Canada is currently proposed to be 18 years or older. That is three years younger than any state in America that has voted to legalize cannabis for adult use. Most of the professional sports teams located in Canada are in the National Hockey League (NHL). The NHL does not list cannabis on its list of banned substances, so legalization in Canada will not affect athletes in those leagues from a drug testing perspective.

However, there is another issue that even cannabis consuming NHL players still have to deal with. As previously discussed on the Uncle Cliffy blog, when people are trying to enter the United States they are asked, among other questions, if they have ever consumed cannabis. If they answer in the affirmative, they run the risk of being denied entry into the United States. That is what happened to Olympic snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, and could happen to athletes who are traveling from Canada for competition in the United States. An adult athlete would be able to legally consume cannabis in Canada after legalization, protected by a federal law from a neighboring country, but that legal act could mean the difference between being able to make it to the next game on the road trip, or being stranded in Canada, stuck in legal limbo. How would a league handle that situation, as it’s a very real possibility in the future?

Any athlete who is competing in a situation that involves drug testing will essentially be forced to either roll the dice, or refrain from cannabis consumption while in Canada. This despite cannabis being legal in Canada soon, and despite cannabis being proven to be 114 times safer than alcohol which is a substance widely embraced by leagues that prohibit cannabis.

THC can stay in a person’s body for as long as 100 days according to at least one study, which means that an athlete runs the risk of being penalized well after the consumption took place. And that doesn’t even consider what type of consumption method or for what purpose the athlete consumed. The athlete could have very well consumed cannabis in a smokeless form, of a cannabinoid composition level that does not even create euphoria, and entirely for medical purposes. All of this being 100% legal in Canada in the not-so-distant future for adult use, and currently already legal for medical use. How does that make any sense?

The NHL has proven that cannabis can be removed from a league’s banned substances list and that the sky will remain intact. 8 states in America have legalized cannabis for adult use, as has Washington D.C., and soon, the entire nation of Canada will also have legalized. Athletes shouldn’t have to have their careers put at risk, or even worse ended entirely, because they chose to use a substance, the legalization of which is supported by 60% of Americans.

Professional sports leagues may not be able to change public policy in America to eliminate potential issues around cannabis use and entry into the United States, but professional sports leagues can recognize that prohibition has failed, and that league policies should get on the right side of history. Cannabis legalization is coming to Canada in 2018, and likely to more states in America by the end of 2018. One state that is likely to legalize in 2018 is Michigan which borders Canada, and which is home to the Tigers (MLB), Pistons (NBA), and Lions (NFL). Other states will likely legalize cannabis for medical use by the end of 2018. All professional sports leagues need to follow suit and free the plant!

Why Are Athletes Prevented From Entering The U.S. Because Of Cannabis Use?

Athletes that compete on an international level obviously have to travel across borders in order to get to the destination(s) that they are competing at. That may seem like a straight forward thing, but when it comes to entering the United States that straight forward task can turn into a nightmare if the athlete admits to being a cannabis consumer. At any point in their life.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service has a policy of asking some people entering the United States if they have consumed cannabis at any point in time in their lives. If the traveler admits to previous cannabis use, they can be turned away. That is what happened to Olympic snowboarder Ross Rebagliati when he tried to previously enter the United States from Canada.

The Canadian snowboarder was once temporarily stripped of his gold medal from the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan after testing positive for cannabis. Mr. Rebagliati owns a dispensary in Canada, and is well known for his cannabis use. That cannabis use may prevent him from ever traveling into the United States, even for work purposes. His only shot is obtaining a waiver, which is not exactly a sure thing. Per CTV News:

People who have been denied entry for drug use can purchase a waiver for US$585, roughly the equivalent of C$800. Unfortunately, they are only good for a maximum of five years.

“[Rebagliati] has an excellent chance of getting a five-year waiver, but the problem is he’ll have to renew it every five years again and again for the rest of his life, unless they change U.S. federal laws,” Saunders said.

The waiver can be cancelled at any time should the holder admit to continued marijuana use, the lawyer added.

Some United States professional sports leagues have teams located in Canada, such as the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays. Athletes on those teams can become medical cannabis patients in Canada legally, and/or can travel to 8 states in America and consume cannabis legally. However, that use could prevent them from traveling, which is essentially the same as preventing them from working being that they cannot enter the United States where the rest of the leagues’ teams are located.

The stigma surrounding cannabis is so strong that athletes get discriminated against by the United States government (along with all other consumers) simply for admitting to cannabis use at some point in their life. 44% of Americans have admitted to cannabis use. 60% of Americans support legalizing cannabis for adult use. Cannabis has been found to be 114 times safer than alcohol, the use of which will not get you banned from entering the United States. It’s beyond time that this travel restriction goes away entirely.