As pot rules change, sport doping rules will stay the same

Sanctions levelled against two Saint Mary’s University football players, including one sanction for cannabis, raise questions about how new pot regulations in Canada will change drug testing for athletes.

2 SMU football players sanctioned for positive drug tests

Saint Mary's University quarterback Kaleb Scott was issued a two-month suspension after testing positive for cannabis. (Nick Pearce)

Sanctions levelled against two Saint Mary's University football players — including one sanction for cannabis use — raise questions about how new pot regulations in Canada will change drug testing for athletes.

The short answer is the rules won't change at all because cannabis remains on the list of banned substances.

"That prohibited list is set by the World Anti-Doping Agency and their list committee," said Paul Melia, CEO for the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES).

"Marijuana is on that list and what we've been working hard on is improved education for athletes so they don't make an assumption that there is a relationship between the legalization of marijuana in Canada and its status as a banned substance."

This month, CCES announced the two SMU football players failed drug tests that were administered following games during the 2017 season.
Paul Melia is the president of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

"The highest-risk sport in U Sports is football," said Melia.

CCES is based out of Ottawa but has 80 casual employees across the country who perform random testing on some of the 12,000 university athletes at 56 schools.

"We look at the training regimen of an athlete, weight gains, all kinds of factors go into our teams deciding where and when to test."   

2-month suspension

Atlantic conference all-star quarterback Kaleb Scott's urine sample revealed the presence of cannabis. He was given a suspension of two months, which he served during the off-season in January and February.

"We will continue to be transparent about the testing of our players," said SMU head football coach, James Colzie III. "But at the end of the day, you have to accept the decision and you hope that it's a learning process for the players on the team."
James Colzie III, head coach of the Saint Mary’s University Huskies, said the Huskies 'will continue to be transparent about the testing of our players.' (CBC)

Scott was not allowed to have any contact with the SMU football team while he was sanctioned. But he is now back with the team and taking part in off-season workouts.

Stiffer sanctions?

Stiffer sanctions could be in the works for athletes who are doping.

"I think it's something we need to look at and the code that governs this is reviewed regularly," said Melia. "This will likely be one of the issues we will bring forward — the somewhat meaningless sanction when it's out of season."

Scott's urine sample was taken following the Huskies' 27-26 win over the Mount Allison University Mounties on Sept. 23. He was allowed to play the rest of the season due to the length of time it took to get the test results.

On Jan. 11, CCES received the results that cannabis levels in Scott's test were above the allowable threshold.

"There was a glitch in the system and in our own investigation of that and our own corrective action we have moved to a monthly reconciliation of those test confirmations, so there should never be that kind of a delay again."

In a file outcome summary on Scott's case on the CCES website, his sanction was reduced to two months because his use of the substance was deemed "social in nature and unconnected to sport or training."

2-year sanction

The second SMU player who was suspended was Matthew McConnell, a defensive back who was playing in his final season.

He was tested after the Huskies 16-15 playoff win over St. F. X. on Nov. 4.

His test showed the presence of D- and L-amphetamine, a prohibited substance.

McConnell was given a two-year suspension.