HALIFAX, N.S. - Those behind major sports in Atlantic Canada don’t want to be caught unprepared when marijuana is legalized later this month.
Those under 19 who violate the new rules associated with legalization can face any of several potential legal punishments depending on the circumstances and their age.
The QWMJHL, the region’s largest and most popular league, is making a push to get ready for the new laws. The players are almost all teenagers and the fan base is dominated by youngsters.
With Maritimes teams in Sydney, Halifax, Acadie-Bathurst, Moncton, Saint John and Charlottetown, steps are being taken to expose young fans and players in all those markets to QMJHL marijuana information programs.
“The Mooseheads and the entire Canadian Hockey League have formed a partnership with Health Canada and will be rolling out an awareness campaign on our social media channels throughout the season,” said Scott MacIntosh, Halifax Mooseheads manager of media relations and communications, of his team’s plans.
“#FocusedOn will be a series of videos that the Mooseheads and other teams collaborate on, to engage our athletes, along with parents and children, in discussion to help youth understand the facts surrounding the use of marijuana and to encourage them to make positive and healthy life choices.”
The Mooseheads will also work with local billet families who provide winter homes for their players.
“Our franchise takes pride in being a positive influence in our community and especially with young children, so we plan to take the proper steps to make sure that continues,” MacIntosh said.
The NBL, which has six teams in the Atlantic Provinces, starts its regular season in mid-November. It, too, is talking about how to handle the various aspects of the marijuana issue.
Deputy-commissioner Audley Stephenson said the NBL, staffed with adult professional players, is aware of the need to have a policy in place.
That policy will be a reflection of the league’s desire to have players conduct themselves well in public, said Stephenson. He doesn’t want players to give a bad impression to youth.
“There’s been preliminary talk,” said Stephenson of discussion between the league and individual teams on strategy. Much of the conversation has been around athletes being in public schools and in the community.
“We will have league standards to adhere to,” he said of the franchises in Sydney, Halifax, Charlottetown, Moncton, Saint John and St. John’s.
Other junior hockey leagues in Atlantic Canada are preparing for legalization, too.
Among them is the Maritime Hockey League, one of the region’s largest setups with teams in Yarmouth, Amherst, Truro, Bridgewater, New Glasgow, Berwick, St. Stephen, Grand Falls, Summerside, Edmundston, Campbellton and Miramichi. Its rosters are mostly comprised of players in their late teens from across Atlantic Canada.
Valley Wildcats general manager Nick Greenough said handling the upcoming legalization of marijuana currently rests with individual teams but he expects a wider, league-co-ordinated response soon.
He also expects guidance from the national junior hockey body.
“Teams will be looking at their policies. It’s about educating. I think you’ll see a lot more in the schools.
“It’s the same with alcohol,” Greenough said of why his club takes the matter seriously and the work that must be done.
How teams handle legalization of marijuana will be similar to how teams and league management handle issues that arise from the misuse of any stimulant.
“We don't want our kids going to school or in the community (and have people) thinking our hockey players are a bunch of potheads,” said Greenough.
The group that should have the easiest time transitioning to the new laws is Atlantic University Sport. The largest sporting group in the Atlantic Provinces, it oversees varsity sports programs involving 11 universities and more than 2,000 athletes.
Those at AUS expect no change under the new rules.
Executive director Phil Currie said the national body, U Sports, operates under the guidelines of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports (CCES). Under those guidelines, marijuana is already a banned substance for all of their athletes.
In regards to legalizing marijuana, the CCES website reads: “Athletes subject to the Canadian Anti-Doping Program (CADP) must be aware that this does not affect the status of cannabis in sport. Cannabis continues to be a prohibited substance and a positive test can still result in a sanction.”
“The CCES determines what's on their banned list,” Currie said. “We haven't heard it's coming off their list. It's status quo for our student-athletes.”
Chris Cochrane is a columnist with The Chronicle Herald in Halifax, N.S.