New CFL drug policy is dope (that’s a good thing)

The CFL and the CFLPA announced a new drug policy on Thursday, one day after the stoner holiday known as 4/20. That’s a coincidence – probably – but it’s also appropriate given that all parties involved the new deal come out feeling alright, alright, alright.

For the league – and particularly commissioner Jeffrey Orridge, who’s had something of a rocky first year – the revamped policy is a much-needed boost of credibility after last June’s debacle that saw the country’s only legit testing agency, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports, take a giant dump all over the CFL and its drug rules. The league doubled down by severing ties with CCES, then spent a year as the only professional league with a shred of credibility that didn’t test its players for PEDs. Not a good look.

The new policy has a number of new elements that were sorely lacking in the old one: namely accountability and transparency. Players with a first test positive get a two-game ban (with escalating bans for subsequent tests) and are publicly disclosed; that’s significant departure for the anonymous slap on the wrist that was the status quo. That the CCES is back as the testing agency is also a tacit acknowledgment that this is a policy with some real teeth.

The players association looks good, too. Given that the policy was collective bargained, the CFLPA was under absolutely no obligation to re-do the deal – they could have very easily left the league to stew in the mess that was very much of its own creation. But the CFLPA has a stake in the overall credibility of the CFL as well, not to mention a vested interest in maintaining a good working relationship with the league.

It’s also a player safety issue. If you accept the argument that most players want not only to play clean but also want to compete against other players who are PED-free, then the status quo was hardly in their best interests. At the very least, the vast majority of the CFLPA members want a level playing field when they are competing for their physically perilous, non-guaranteed jobs.

From the union standpoint, the timing is not coincidence. A revamped leadership, led by new president Jeff Keeping, was installed in late March and that has instantly improved both the cohesion of and communication between CFLPA’s executive branch. That made getting a deal done easier.

And yes, CFL players can still smoke as much weed as they want / need to. While the new deal respects NFL, CIS and World Anti-Doping Agency suspensions, the list of banned substances is entirely of the CFL’s and CFLPA’s choosing. Mary Jane didn’t make the cut and that’s undoubtedly a good thing: attitudes and laws about marijuana in this country are changing fast and it’s an open secret that a significant number players in the CFL like to sample the electric lettuce from time-to-time.

The policy isn’t perfect, of course. The penalties, while improved, are still weaker than other North American pro sports leagues. Not all players will be happy with the new “name and shame” rules that accompany a first positive test. Still, both the CFL and the CFLPA appear to have come to something a workable compromise that restores credibility for all involved.

That’s pretty dope.

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