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The NHL's Attitude Toward Marijuana Might Surprise You

When it comes to dealing with illegal substances like marijuana, the National Hockey League is much more lenient than the other Big Four sports. Testing positive for marijuana use results in a suspension if you play for the National Basketball Association or the National Football League. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball doesn't punish pros for testing positive for cannabis (though minor leaguers can face discipline, as was the case with Alex Reyes who received a 50-game suspension after testing positive for marijuana use).

The NHL has a policy much like baseball's, except for the harsh punishments at the minor league level, according to Guardian reporter Scott Keyes. When discussing efforts to overturn the NFL's ban, Keyes wrote, "[The NHL] does not include marijuana on its list of banned substances."

To find out more detail on the NHL policy, we reached out to the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) - the labor union representing athletes in North America's top hockey league. The union handles grievances as well as negotiating with the league on rules and procedures, including guidelines for drug testing.

NHL doesn't punish players for using marijuana

An NHLPA spokesperson - who spoke with Civilized on the condition of not being quoted - said that the league does not condone marijuana. However, it is not part of the NHL's testing for performance-enhancing substances. When testing players each season, one third (which is no fewer than 200 athletes) are randomly selected to be screened for stimulants like amphetamines, narcotics like cocaine, and cannabinoids such as marijuana and hash.

Players aren't identified - regardless of the results. And those who who test positive aren't disciplined. Instead, the anonymous stats are presented to the NHL and NHLPA's Performance Enhancing Substances Program Committee for review so that they can decide how to handle testing moving forward.

However, if a player is found to have a dangerously high level of a narcotic or cannabinoid, he is subject to mandatory assessment by doctors working for the NHL and NHLPA's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. Those doctors could decide to refer him to mandatory substance-abuse treatment. The assessment and referral aren't meant to be disciplinary procedures, but they are mandatory.

So, in short, the NHL doesn't want players to use drugs like marijuana. But they don't try to stop them with as much vigor as the other leagues. And that might be a good thing. There's no doubt that NHL players who are lucky enough to make it to the Stanley Cup Final - (which begins tonight between the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks) - could use a painkiller like marijuana to treat the aches and pains that come with fighting through the playoffs.

Back in 2013, retired player Darcy Tucker - who played 68 playoff games over 15-year career - gave us a glimpse of what pros endure in the postseason.

banner image: Flickr / CAGuard


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