“Good people break bad laws, I guess,” Cote recently told Macleans. “At least half of those guys [I competed with and against from 2006-2010] consumed, and a fraction of those guys consumed regularly. Like, every day….And that number is probably higher.”
Cote includes himself in that stat. The retired winger says he regularly consumed cannabis to deal with the aches and pains of his 50+ NHL fights, plus the anxiety that comes with playing at the highest level of hockey in the world.
“I’d quietly use it as an ally of mine. It helped me manage anxiety [and] pain. There was no physical addiction. It just made me feel better.”
And he did it without having to worry about serious repercussions from the NHL.
The NHL's Marijuana Policy
Unlike the NBA, NFL and MLB, marijuana isn't on the NHL's list of banned substances. When a player tests positive for THC, the league's Performance Enhancing Substances Program Committee reviews the report to determine how to handle the situation, an NHL Players Association rep told Civilized. If the amount of THC is high, the player could face a mandatory assessment by doctors working for the league's Substance Abuse and Behavioural Health Program. But Cote says that is pretty rare.
“Nobody I’ve heard of has tested positive strictly for THC and been thrown in the substance-abuse program,” said Cote, who wants the league to take its progressive policy a step further by allowing players to use medical marijuana for conditions like anxiety. Enforcers are particularly susceptible to anxiety, he said, because they often lie awake at night worrying about the next fight. To cope, many turn to alcohol, which can take a heavy toll on their lives both on and off the ice.
But he believes marijuana could help them mitigate those symptoms and boost their quality of life.
“We’re not selling the silver-bullet, magical cure for all,” Cote said. “[Cannabis] is a tool and it needs to be treated with respect…. It’s all about increasing quality of life. It’s about helping these guys wake up the next morning, where they can feel functional enough, good enough, [that] they can enjoy their family and not worry about the pain and anxiety — that vicious cycle that generally leads to mental health issues.”
Advocates Pushing for Marijuana Reform in Pro Sports
Helping players has become the focus of Cote's post-NHL career. Since retiring in 2010, he has co-founded Athletes for Care — a non-profit group advocating for medical marijuana and other holistic treatments to improve the health and wellbeing of former players.
Cote's mission is part of an overall push to change attitudes toward marijuana in professional sports. Right now, retired NFL players like Eugene Monroe are calling on the league to allow medical marijuana use, which could help players deal with the traumatic head injuries that are occupational hazards in pro football. Meanwhile, former NBA Commissioner David Stern has called on the world's top basketball league to repeal its cannabis ban in light of the gains made by the legalization movement in America.
So don't be surprised if bookies in Vegas start taking bets on which league will be first to approve cannabis use.