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Halftime Report | Retired athletes jumping high into the cannabis industry

Cannabis, by any name, has long been abhorred in the world of professional sports. But, times are changing. 

Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson - “All The Smoke” podcast

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Cannabis, by any name, has long been abhorred in the world of professional sports. But, times are changing. Prior to this year, the drug had been on the banned substance list of every major sports association save the National Hockey League. While marijuana remains on the list, the NBA initially elected to suspend testing players for it during the 2019 season restart – a policy they extended into the 2020-2021 season. Let’s be frank, weed is typically tied to African-American athletes and has often been tied to the “character issues” of said athletes. Insert Stephen A. Smith’s “Stay off the weed!” rant.

Several athletes have lost endorsements, money, and sometimes their entire careers due to recreational use of marijuana. One of the more glaring cases is Ricky Williams. The former Heisman Trophy winning running back was suspended numerous times for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. When all was said and done, he estimated that he lost over $10 million in salary and potential endorsements due to his usage. The athlete ultimately retired from the league in 2011 as the Miami Dolphins all-time rushing leader. As more and more states legalize cannabis, Williams stands to recoup some, if not all, of those lost dollars. He, like many athletes, has dove into the cannabis business — and business is good.

Williams is manning a different type of field these days. He has launched Real Wellness in 2018. That’s his personal brand of cannabis-based products. The self-proclaimed “Heisman Healer” spoke candidly and often during his playing career about the healing properties of the plant. As he toggled between suspensions, Williams revealed that he used the drug not only for physical recovery, but to treat his depression and social anxiety disorder. Two years ago, he told the Miami New Times: “Back in 2004, I retired to smoke weed. Well, that’s not all the way true. I retired to take better care of myself. One of those things that helped was cannabis.”

Most recently, an ESPN study concluded that 61% of NFL players prefer to use CBD for assistance with pain and anxiety relief. As for Williams, he’s not simply creating excuses to toke up; he has spent time educating himself in herbalism and holistic medicine. The results have yielded Real Wellness products such as Head Ease and Serenity. Both products contain THC and come as vape cartridges. Head Ease targets headaches, while Serenity targets muscle spasms and anxiety. The brand also produces a Sport line that targets “sprains, bruises, muscle tightness” by way of a balm containing CBD, arnica, cayenne, lavender and St. John’s Wort.

While Williams’ involvement in “cannabusiness” is not so shocking given his history, you may be surprised to learn of some of the other football legends who are giving the industry a shot. Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana entered the cannabis market for the first time back in 2017 with Herb, one of the world’s largest cannabis-focused media companies. In 2019, his venture capital firm was part of a large $75 million investment with California-based Caliva. The deal includes a farm, retail store, distribution center, and delivery service. In an interview with Esquire, Montana shared his thoughts that marijuana “can provide relief to many people and can make a serious impact on opioid use or addiction.”

Another big NFL name scoring touchdowns in the marijuana business is Calvin Johnson. It wasn’t until after he tired that the former Detroit Lions All-Pro wide receiver admitted to using marijuana after every game to cope with pain. Since then, he has moved on to the medical marijuana business, starting Primitiv – a cannabis research company – with former teammate Rob Sims. The brand is working with a Harvard medical school group to research the use and effectiveness of the plant in the treatment of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, better known as CTE.

Up In Smoke

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve watched or at least heard of “All the Smoke,” the podcast hosted by former NBA players Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson. While it was well known within their circle that the two former World Champions liked to roll up, it wasn’t until after their careers concluded that the duo became more outspoken about their recreational and medicinal use of marijuana. During each episode, you can catch Barnes and Jackson lighting up, and delivering highly entertaining content with a myriad of guests. While their transparency may have been frowned upon by some of the old school giants of the game, the new era has applauded their audacity. One such player is Al Harrington.

Harrington started using marijuana medicinally in 2008. He fell in love with the therapeutic properties of cannabis and started a company, Viola. For the past 10 years, Viola has produced in California, Oregon, Michigan, and Colorado. Products include “ultra premium flower,” pre-rolls, and concentrates. The company prides itself on its focus on increasing minority ownership, reinvesting into the community, and creating opportunities all while curating ultra-premium products. In October, the brand launched an incubator project to generate 10,000 cannabis jobs. The project pairs Viola with Black family-owned farm Gold Standard Farms, which has been in business for over 80 years and has two locations.

Its CEO spoke with Benzinga. ”The partnership we’ve forged through this incubator program serves as a catalyst in all the progress the world is so desperate to see in the space,” Jarrel Howard said. Viola has also been vocal in the social advocacy space, launching Viola Cares back in February.

Gary Payton, known in the NBA world as “The Glove” also threw his hat into the mix. He became the first NBA player to sign a licensing deal with a cannabis lifestyle brand. “Cookies” has produced a strain named after the star that is just as “loud” as the Hall of Famer and former Olympian. Creative packaging that bears Payton’s likeness push the price point of the strain. Most recently, his former SuperSonics teammate Shawn Kemp has reemerged in the spotlight.

Not much had been seen or heard from Kemp for a while but that changed earlier this year when the former forward opened Shawn Kemp’s Cannabis in late October. The retail store is located in Seattle and stocks his pal’s Gary Payton Cookies. At the opening, Kemp revealed that he hopes the store will promote responsible marijuana use and boost the community by paying good wages to people of all backgrounds. “If you go into any of these pot shops around town, you very rarely see any of us Blacks working in those shops,” he said. “You come to my shop and you’ll see a mixed ratio of people.”

The cannabusiness boom isn’t only in the football and basketball worlds. Olympic gold-medal gymnast Gabby Douglas may be a surprise marijuana mogul. She teamed up with a group of professional athletes to invest in Motive CBD. The product line targets athletes and includes topical creams focused on joint and muscle support.

“The Ceiling is the Roof”

With recent legislation passed in November elections, recreational use of marijuana is now legal in 15 states and D.C. with presumably more to join in the near future. With the capitalistic nature of the country provides boundless revenue potential, the stigma behind weed will continue to fade. That being said, it’s high time to re-examine the sentencing of non-violent offenders serving bids for selling marijuana, but that’s a topic for another day.

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