Flyers’ Riley Cote fighting for your right to grow hemp in America

Riley Cote has a problem with marijuana.

More to the point, he has a problem with the people who confuse marijuana with hemp, which is like assuming Riley Cote is Claude Giroux just because both wore Philadelphia Flyers sweaters. They’re different varieties of the same plant. Try smoking industrially grown hemp; you’d get a greater high from drinking a Slurpee.

“People hear ‘hemp’ and right away they think marijuana, and it’s not. Hemp is a very viable renewable resource that’s not being farmed and grown in America. It can replace pretty much everything we use on an everyday basis – plastics, fibers, textiles, fuel. The list goes on and on,” said Cote.

“There’s no drug value. There’s no THC.”

This is now Riley Cote’s fight, after a brief NHL career that saw him participate in plenty of them on the ice: 51 bouts, according to, in only 156 regular-season games with the Flyers from 2006-2010, before his retirement from hockey at 28 years old.

Now he’s battling the stigma attached to, and the laws prohibiting, the growing of hemp in the U.S.

Cote is the founder of The Hemp Heals Foundation, a non-profit organization that seeks to educate the public on why “hemp is much more than a nutritional powerhouse, it is the world’s most perfect plant.”

On Sept. 7, for the second straight year, the foundation is sponsoring the Hemp Heals Music Festival at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia featuring Rebelution, Matisyahu and others. Tickets are on sale here.

“It’s a human rights issue,” said Cote in a phone interview last week.

“We live in a toxic, chemical world. Everything that’s bad for you is legal, and yet they outlaw nature.”

In his last few years with the Flyers, Cote said he switched his diet to one that embraced plant-based protein. Hemp protein was at the top of that list. He said it remains a beneficial natural supplement for some NHL players.

“Absolutely,” he said. “[Edmonton Oilers defenseman] Andrew Ference always carries around hemp seeds as a protein source.”

(For the record, the NHL only tests players for “steroids, hormones and basic doping tests” according to Sports In Law. Hemp supplements have no THC.)

After he hung up the skates, Cote had a period of self-analysis about what he had done to his body and what he was failing to do.

“I thought I was in good shape. I thought I was doing the right things. But I wasn’t eating properly. I abused my body in other ways and paid the price for it,” he said. “I’m [now] a big believer in simple living, back to basics and filling your body with real food. Natural foods.”

It doesn’t get more natural than hemp, according to Cote, which he calls an extremely digestible source of protein that’s high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids. It's a food source he said allowed his sister, Jamie, to help manager her Multiple Sclerosis.

(The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, for the record, doesn't endorse hemp as a means to treat the disease and, according to CSN Philadelphia, chose not to endorse last year's Hemp Heals concert featuring Cypress Hill. The MSAA said in a statement last year: “In terms of rigorous clinical trials and peer-reviewed published data, we do not know of any scientific research using hemp seeds in the treatment of MS. Hemp seeds have no known active effect on MS.”)

“Go into Whole Foods, and you see 100 items with hemp on them. If you have any kind of brain at all, you know there’s no marijuana in them,” said Cote, who is now an assistant coach with the Adirondack Phantoms, the Flyers’ AHL affiliate.

Many of those items are made in the U.S., but not with hemp grown in the U.S. Growing hemp has been illegal since the 1950s, a casualty of the war on marijuana. Federal law continues to prohibit it even as states like Colorado have started to legalize it.

Bring up the illegality of hemp growing in America, and Cote goes into the kind of diatribes you'd expect to hear from your activist stoner friends. About how the first American flag and the Declaration of Independence were commissioned on hemp. That growing it would help “the people on Earth” through more oxygen in the atmosphere. About how powerful families like the Duponts and the Rockefellers have kept the bans in place for the benefit of their own businesses.

“It’s not just one corporation. It’s many. They’re threatened by one single plant. It’s that powerful,” said Cote.

Yeah, he’s a passionate guy on the subject.

But his focus is clear. While Cote is in favor of medical marijuana, he’s quick to differentiate between his fight and those seeking to legalize pot.

He admits that informing the public about that nuance is more than a token effort. “The education is killing the stigma,” he said.

It’s an education he hopes continues at the concert this weekend, as like-minded supporters of his hemp-embracing movement converge on Philadelphia. For a player that served as an enforcer during his NHL days, Riley Cote is feeling protective about something entirely different these days.

“It seems almost outrageous that I have to stick up for a plant, but I’m not the only one,” said Cote.