Former NBA athlete Iman Shumpert, known for playing on teams such as the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets, and Brooklyn Nets, and also the Dancing With the Stars Season 30 champion was arrested for cannabis possession last week while traveling.
Shumpert was in possession of 6.2 ounces of cannabis in his luggage on July 30 while going through security at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) on his way to Los Angeles. According to the Associated Press, the DFW Airport Department of Public Safety, this was a “sizeable amount of marijuana.” The police also reported that Shumpert had a Glock magazine with 14 nine-millimeter rounds, but no firearm, in his bag as well, however this is not currently a part of the charge.
The police report stated that Shumpert told officers that he had cannabis in his bag, and “asked if there was any way he could make his flight” so he could arrive on time and pick up one of his daughters.
However, police told him no, and arrested him for felony possession instead.
It’s a cautionary tale for anyone planning to travel with cannabis. Many airports in legal states have loosened restrictions for cannabis possession. Earlier this year in Canada, one airport was considering allowing a cannabis dispensary on-site. Airports in Chicago installed cannabis amnesty boxes in 2020 for travelers to drop their cannabis in prior to their flights. In 2018, Los Angeles International Airport changed its policy to allow cannabis possession at the airport—but not on an actual flight.
Earlier this year in January, rapper Vic Mensa was caught with 124 grams of psilocybin capsules, 178 grams of psilocybin gummies, six grams of psilocybin mushrooms, and 41 grams LSD, while at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia after returning from Ghana. He was charged with felony narcotics possession. Despite this, Vic Mensa recently launched his own cannabis brand in Chicago, Illinois called 93 Boyz.
Traveling with cannabis abroad has proven to be dangerous, such as the case of WNBA athlete Brittney Griner, who was detained in Russia in February for possession of vape cartridges. Although she claimed the cannabis was being used for medical purposes, and she holds a medical cannabis card in the U.S., Russian judges concluded on August 4 that she is guilty of her charges and has been sentenced to nine-and-a-half years in prison. Reports have shared that the U.S. is in talks with Russian officials for a potential prisoner swap in order bring Griner home. Last week, the Biden administration made an offer to exchange Russian prisoner Viktor Bout for Griner, as well as another American, Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned on espionage charges since 2018.
“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans and the city of (Yekaterinburg) for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them,” Griner said after the charge was issued, according to the Associated Press. “I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home.”
NBA forward Montrezl Harrell is facing felony drug charges after police discovered three pounds of weed during a traffic stop in Kentucky last month. Harrell, who plays for the Charlotte Hornets, was scheduled to appear in court to answer the charges filed in Madison County, Kentucky on Monday but the arraignment hearing has been delayed until next month, court records show.
According to a police report cited by the Charlotte Observer, Harrell was driving a rented 2020 Honda Pilot southbound on I-75 on the morning of May 12 when he was pulled over by a Kentucky state trooper for following too closely behind the vehicle in front of him. In the report, Trooper Jesse Owens wrote that after stopping Harrell’s vehicle, he “observed” the odor of marijuana. The citation also notes that Harrell “admitted to being in possession of marijuana and produced a small amount from his sweatpants.” Law enforcement officers then searched the vehicle Harrell was driving. During the search, the trooper discovered “three pounds of marijuana in vacuum sealed bags” in a backpack that was found on the back seat of the vehicle, according to the traffic citation.
Harrell has been charged with trafficking less than five pounds of marijuana. Under Kentucky state law, possession of more than eight ounces but less than five pounds of marijuana is classified as a Class D felony for the first offense. Those convicted of the charge are subject to a sentence of one to five years behind bars and a fine ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.
The Charlotte Hornets have declined to comment on Harrell’s case, according to multiple media reports.
8-Year NBA Career
Harrell, a North Carolina native, is in his eighth season with the NBA. He played NCAA Division 1 college basketball in Kentucky for the University of Louisville Cardinals, where he averaged 11.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocked shots per game. As a freshman, he played on the Cardinals’ 2013 national championship team, although the title was later taken away by the league for NCAA violations.
In June 2015, Harrell was chosen by the Houston Rockets in the second round of the NBA draft, the 32nd pick overall. On September 19, 2015, he signed a three-year contract with the Rockets and made his NBA debut with the team in the season’s opening game against the Denver Nuggets on October 28, scoring eight points and pulling down three rebounds. Harrell made his first career start with the NBA on November 13, playing 13 minutes of game time and sinking five points in the Rockets’ defeat of the Denver Nuggets. During his rookie season, he was assigned to the Rockets D-league affiliate the Rio Valley Grande Vipers several times.
In June 2017, the Los Angeles Clippers traded Chris Paul to the Rockets, acquiring Harrell, Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Lou Williams, Kyle Wiltjer and a 2018 Houston first-round draft pick in the deal. In September 2020, Harrell was named the NBA Sixth Man of the Year, an award given by the league for the season’s best bench player. That season, the Clippers went to the playoffs, losing in seven games against the Denver Nuggets. Harrell averaged 10.5 points and 2.9 rebounds per game in the playoffs that saw the Nuggets advance after starting the series down three games to one.
Harrell signed with the Los Angeles Lakers on November 22, 2020, making his debut with the team one month later and logging 17 points, 10 rebounds and three assists against his former team and Lakers’ crosstown rival the Clippers. In August 2021, Harrell was traded to the Washington Wizards as part of a deal for Russell Westbrook. In February of this year, he was traded to the Charlotte Hornets, scoring 15 points and six rebounds in his team debut on February 11. Harrell is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent when the NBA’s new league year begins in July.
NBA superstar LeBron James on Sunday called on the U.S. government to work to secure the release of WNBA champion and Olympic basketball gold medalist Brittney Griner, who has been held in a Russian prison on a cannabis possession charge for nearly four months.
“We need to come together and help do whatever we possibly can to bring BG home quickly and safely!! Our voice as athletes is stronger together,” James wrote on Twitter over the weekend.
James also shared a message from his brand Uninterrupted that calls on President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to work for Griner’s release. The post also encouraged readers to learn more about the case online.
“For over 100 days, BG has faced inhumane conditions in a Russian prison and has been denied communications with her family and loved ones,” reads a message from Uninterrupted that was included in the social media post. “As a decorated Olympian and member of an elite global sport community, BG’s detention must be resolved out of respect for the sanctity of all sport and for all Americans traveling internationally. It is imperative that the U.S. Government immediately address this human rights issue and do whatever is necessary to return Brittney home.”
James also posted a link to an online petition hosted by Change.org that maintains that “Griner is a beloved global citizen who has used her platform since her entry into the WNBA to help others.” James encouraged fans to share and sign the petition, which had collected more than 250,000 signatures as of Tuesday.
Olympic and WNBA Superstar
Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star center who has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013, including the team’s 2014 league championship squad. She has also twice won the Olympic gold medal with the U.S. women’s basketball team.
Griner has played seven seasons of professional basketball in Russia during the winter, a common practice among WNBA players. She earns about $1 million per season to play in Russia, about four times the salary she earns playing for the WNBA. On January 29, Griner played her most recent game with her team UMMC Ekaterinburg before the Russian league took a two-week break for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments.
The Russian Customs Service reported on March 5 that an American women’s basketball player had been detained after cannabis vape cartridges were discovered in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow. The date of the arrest was not given and Griner was not named in the report. The customs also released a video that appeared to show Griner with security officials at an airport security checkpoint.
The Russian state news agency TASS subsequently reported that the arrested player was Griner. Although the date of Griner’s arrest was not announced, media outlets reported that she has been in custody since February 17. After news of the arrest made headlines, the WNBA and the players’ union issued messages of support for the star athlete.
“Brittney Griner has the WNBA’s full support, and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States,” the league wrote in a statement after Griner’s arrest was announced by Russian media.
Griner’s arrest by Russian authorities has led to an outcry from lawmakers, cannabis advocates, celebrities, and fellow athletes. Democratic Representative Colin Allred of Texas, the star athlete’s home state, said on March 9 that he was looking into Griner’s arrest.
“My office has been in touch with the State Department, and we’re working with them to see what is the best way forward,” said Allred, as quoted by ESPN. “I know the administration is working hard to try and get access to her and try to be helpful here. But obviously, it’s also happening in the context of really strained relations. I do think that it’s really unusual that we’ve not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services.”
A month after her arrest, Russian authorities announced that Griner’s detention would be extended for two months. TASS reported on March 17 that Griner was being held in an undisclosed Russian prison pending further investigation of the case. The news agency also said that Ekaterina Kalugina of the human rights group Public Monitoring Commission, a quasi-official body with access to Russian prisons, had visited Griner. Kalugina reported that Griner was doing well and being held in humane conditions.
In May, the U.S. Department of State reclassified Griner’s status, saying that she had been “wrongfully detained” by the Russian government.
“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” the State Department wrote in an email to ESPN. “With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
Since then, however, the status of Griner’s case has remained unchanged, prompting the renewed calls for her release from James on Sunday.
There’s a lot of reasons to love Viola. Besides attracting consumers with their high-profile founder, the heart-warming story of the company’s origins or their extensive equity work with Viola Cares—these guys just make great products. Now in their 10th year of operation, today Viola is easily one of the most talked about brands in the cannabis industry, and one of the most popular in terms of sales too. With operations in six states and a licensing deal that will bring the brand into Canada, Viola has long been a shining example of cultural relevance driving sales in this burgeoning space.
Founded by former NBA first-round pick Al Harrington, who was drafted at 18 (as the 25th pick overall in the 1998 draft), Harrington isn’t your typical cannabis executive—even though he did play for most of the teams with names stoners would choose, like the Nuggets, the Magic and the Wizards. After suffering numerous injuries while playing professionally and having been prescribed countless pharmaceuticals to quell his pain, it wasn’t until after his career was over that he began to fully comprehend all the healing properties cannabis offered. The NBA didn’t look too kindly on the plant back then, after all. But after medicating himself, it was actually his grandmother’s relief that motivated him to build the company. She had been suffering from glaucoma for years, and cannabis was the first medication that brought her lasting comfort. He immediately realized the potential.
While the goal is of course to grow the business and provide as much access to the plant as possible, it’s important to note that this isn’t just some celebrity cash grab. On top of making quality products, Viola’s mission is to “increase minority participation and ownership in the cannabis industry while positively impacting and reinvesting into communities most affected by the war on drugs,” which is best illustrated through their expansive work with Viola Cares.
The brand’s latest release brings another NBA icon into the cannabis spotlight.
“The Answer” Has Joined the Team
Viola’s newest line was created in conjunction with NBA Hall of Famer, Allen Iverson. The frequent NBA All-Star (not to mention two-time All-Star Game MVP, a league-wide MVP and a Rookie of the Year award), on the other hand, is no stranger to the plant. Having gotten arrested for possession in 1997 while playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, just one year after joining the league, Iverson’s time in the limelight was often viewed through a critical lens. Although undoubtedly a monster on the court, with over 24,000 career points and being widely regarded as one of the best ball handlers ever, it was his antics off the floor that unfortunately made the biggest headlines. With a career that often had him considered the “bad boy” of the league back in the days of prohibition, it seems uniquely appropriate for this All-Star to lend his star power to championing the plant now that the tides are changing. “I couldn’t be happier to team up with my brother, Al, on this. I love what he’s doing and am excited to help share his mission in the cannabis space for our community,” Iverson said.
For Harrington and Viola though, as with their entire business, this is bigger than just a celebrity play. “The partnership with Chuck [Allen Iverson’s nickname] is the first of its kind in the industry. For us it’s more than just throwing his name on a bag or merch.” Harrington told High Times. “We really wanted to create a product he was proud of.”
And it looks like they’ve succeeded. Since its launch—whether it was at one of the several launch parties or from shares on social media, few hype launches get this kind of attention. But how’s it smoke?
Dubbed “‘96,” after Iverson’s rookie year in the league, the pilot cultivar is an indica-dominant cross between Grape Stomper and Secret Kush Mints, and it’s one that will put even the most experienced smoker down. With a vibrant, sweet and piney aroma punching out of the bag, the buds look just as attractive as they smell. The dense, dark purple—almost black—buds are absolutely covered in light trichomes, providing a gorgeous juxtaposition, especially paired with the bright orange hairs sprouting out from the seams.
These nugs are so sticky that you’ll be left with a residue after breaking up only your first nug, so you’ll want to use a grinder, and prepare for an even more impressive aroma once you start crushing buds up. The mint nose really presents itself once it’s been torn to shreds. In terms of the smoke, it’s hard to complain with this one. You’ll get the candy flavor you hope for on the pull, and the ash burns clean, but beware of the high. Unlike many imitators on the market, when these guys say something is an indica, you should take note. Don’t smoke the ‘96 too early, this one is a sleeper—like, Nate Robinson sleep.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) recently released a memo stating that it won’t be testing its athletes for cannabis for the entirety of the upcoming season.
The NBA Spokesman Mike Bass announced on October 6 that cannabis testing athletes will not occur for the rest of the association’s 75th season, which begins on October 19 and runs through May 2022.
“We have agreed with the NBPA to extend the suspension of random testing for marijuana for the 2021-22 season and focus our random testing program on performance-enhancing products and drugs of abuse,” Bass stated.
NBA players were given a memo about the news, but ESPN was the first to obtain the memo and report the information, as of a statement from ESPN Senior NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski.
“Players won’t be subject to random tests for marijuana this season,” according to @NBPA memo shared with players and obtained by ESPN. That’s been adjusted policy through Orlando restart and 2020-‘21 season. Testing continues for “drugs of abuse and performance enhancing substances,” he shared on Twitter.
The NBA first announced that it would suspend random drug tests for cannabis in March 2020, back when the pandemic was ramping up. According to the Associated Press, testing resumed later in summer 2020 at the Orlando Bubble to check for performance-enhancing substances—but cannabis wasn’t among the substances athletes were tested for, mainly in an effort to reduce unnecessary contact for players.
Reporter Ben Dowsett was among the first to confirm this change through league sources later last year, which he shared in a Twitter post in December 2020.
“Sources say this decision is largely based on COVID safety–just another way of limiting unnecessary contacts. However, there’s also significant expectation from many in the league that the entire marijuana testing program is on the way out in the near future.”
It is still a possibility that the NBA could eventually decide to end testing for cannabis permanently, although no official announcement has been made. Cannabis wasn’t included on the list of testable substances in the last NBA season, and now it is confirmed that cannabis will again not be tested for by athletes in this current season as well.
There are many factors that can be attributed to the NBA agreeing to halt cannabis testing for athletes, but one of the reasons is because of athletes speaking out in favor of cannabis and its efficacy as a medicine. Countless athletes have spoken up, and many of them have started their own cannabis businesses, such as former NBA athlete Chris Webber. His company, Players Only Holdings, recently broke ground on a $50 million production and training facility in Detroit Michigan. Another former NBA player, Kevin Durant, used his company Thirty Five Ventures to partner with Weedmaps in an effort to fight the stigma against cannabis.
Tennessee Congressman Steven Cohen joked that cannabis is a performance-enhancing substance in only one case. “Marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug unless you’re entered in the Coney Island hot dog eating contest on the Fourth of July,” Cohen said in July.
Other sports organizations have also begun to loosen restrictions on cannabis consumption. In April, the National Football League announced that it would no longer test for cannabis during the offseason. In December 2019, the Major League Baseball association announced that it would remove cannabis from its list of abused drugs and would only continue to test athletes for opioids and cocaine.
NBA Hall of Famer and entrepreneur Chris Webber on Tuesday broke ground on Players Only Holdings, a $50 million cannabis production and training facility in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. Once completed, the new facility sitting on nine acres near the Detroit River is expected to create hundreds of jobs over the next three years.
Co-founded by Webber with fellow entrepreneur Lavetta Willis, Players Only is a Black-owned business focused on cannabis cultivation, real estate development, brand partnerships and creative content development and management. The 180,000 square foot Players Only facility, dubbed the Webber Wellness Compound, will include a 60,000-square-foot cannabis cultivation operation, an 8,000-square-foot cannabis dispensary and a private consumption lounge.
At Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony, Webber announced the creation of a distribution partnership for Players Only branded products with Gage Growth Corp., a leading, Michigan-licensed cannabis operator headed by CEO Fabian Monaco.
“This will be the shining jewel of Michigan. Everything great in Michigan starts in Detroit, and I am excited to collaborate with Gage to bring our premium line of Players Only products to this community,” former Detroit Piston star Webber said in a statement from Players Only. “Gage is the HOF of cannabis operations. With Fabian Monaco as a teammate, this relationship is a winner on every level.”
Cookies U Comes To Michigan
Webber also took the opportunity to reveal the Detroit expansion of cannabis training program Cookies U, founded by rapper and cannabis mogul Berner in partnership with The WebberWildWillis Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on uplifting and enriching Black and Brown communities negatively impacted by the War on Drugs. In a statement, Berner characterized the state of Michigan as “one of the most important markets in the cannabis industry.”
“Detroit is the first city we opened a flagship store in, outside of California. I have to salute Chris Webber, Jason Wild and Lavetta Willis for supporting our vision to build out Cookies U in Humboldt California and extending the program to Detroit, which happens to be Chris’s hometown,” said Berner, co-founder and CEO of Cookies. “Michigan has always been an advanced and educated market, and we couldn’t be more excited to offer underrepresented people an opportunity to learn the industry from seed to sale.”
Cookies U is a hands-on, fee-free training program that will recruit students from underserved communities and prepare them for jobs in the cannabis industry, including access to a GED program with a financial literacy component. In addition to the educational curriculum, a job-placement program will help graduates find employment in Michigan’s booming legal cannabis market.
“This Detroit training and operations facility is only the first step in bringing tangible opportunities to the people of this city—one that means so much to me—while eliminating barriers to an industry with unlimited economic potential,” Webber said.
“We will create, foster and provide a cannabis ecosystem that celebrates diversity, creates jobs and benefits this community—focusing intensely on those who are being left behind. As social equity programs struggle in many states, we are here to support legacy operators who created the foundation for this industry so that they are included in future iterations of it while we wait on the politics to catch up.”
Construction on the first phase of the Webber Wellness Compound is expected to begin this fall, with work slated to wrap up by March 2022. A $125 million second phase, which as of yet has no announced timeline, will expand the cultivation area by 80,000 square feet.
“This is my biggest priority in life,” Webber said. “I’ve seen who (Willis) and I have helped across the country and the lives that have been disrupted by cannabis. Hopefully, we can do a little bit of repairing. Hopefully, we can help the city.”
After 14 seasons and nine different teams, professional basketball player Matt Barnes won his first-ever championship with the 2017 Golden State Warriors. Months later, he announced his retirement. The following 4/20, a Washington Post article with the headline “‘All my best games I was medicated’: Matt Barnes on his game-day use of marijuana” is published. In it, Barnes speaks candidly about his cannabis use while in the NBA – one of the first instances of him openly sharing his story with the goal of normalizing cannabis in professional sports.
Barnes has since become one of the leading voices of professional athletes calling for the end of penalties for cannabis use while being an active player. Over the past few years, he’s planted roots in the cannabis industry by investing in his hometown of Sacramento through a dispensary called Seven Leaves. He also serves as a senior advisor to Eaze’s minority-focused cannabis business incubator, Momentum.
As we closed in on 2020, Matt joined us from his home in Los Angeles for a Zoom call where he shared his journey as a professional athlete and cannabis advocate, along with his hope for reform under new government leadership.
Cannabis Now: How have you and your family been holding up during the pandemic?
Matt Barnes: Since I was 18, this is the first time I’ve gotten to sit down. I went to UCLA in 1998, and ever since, I’ve been traveling the world to play basketball. Fortunately, I was able to play 15 years, but then I retired and went right into media. I’m working for ESPN and Showtime, traveling all around the country. Though it’s unfortunate circumstances, the pandemic has allowed me to finally sit my ass home. I do my podcast from home, I do ESPN from home, and I get to spend more time with my kids. I’m a single father of three; my twins just turned twelve, my youngest guy [turned] two on December 7. I’m getting to stay home and do the day-to-day things that I retired to do, that I hadn’t been able to do before. We’ve been blessed.
CN: You have an incredible podcast, All the Smoke, where you and fellow retired NBA player Stephen Jackson interview professional athletes and coaches. Given the name of the podcast, how often would you say cannabis comes up? Are there any memorable guests who stand out when it comes to their cannabis use?
We’ve interviewed guys who are still playing that were a little hesitant talking about it, but you know, we do stuff off the camera. One person who comes to mind is The Godfather for my generation: Snoop. It’s been great to talk to him about the plant and seeing his evolution. He came in as someone that was focusing on just getting high, and I’ve been talking to him more about explaining to the world why [he] uses [cannabis]. That’s been my goal when I talk to my colleagues or former athletes about cannabis – I always encourage people to tell their stories.
Just like the next person, I enjoy getting high, but there’s a lot of benefits from it, and I think that’s important when pushing forward a message of nationwide legalization – to erase the old stigmas of the high component and explain the beneficial uses of cannabis. It’s been a fun journey post-career, kind of being a shield for the guys in the league. I’m one of a handful of people that current [NBA] players look to for questions when it comes to using cannabis or not.
CN: What was your path to becoming this cannabis guru for professional athletes?
I was a product of the ’80s. My parents were functioning drug addicts. I saw a lot of different stuff when I was younger, and I remember one of the things I enjoyed smelling at a young age was cannabis. My parents also smoked cigarettes, and I used to hate the smell of those, but there was a different smell when my dad would light that weed up at the end of the day.
At the age of 14, I tried it. My first experience was terrible; I got a headache and passed out. But I wasn’t a quitter – I jumped right back on the horse and have been using it religiously for the past 26 years. Through high school, UCLA, my entire professional career, it’s been there for me…It’s always mellowed me out, made me more levelheaded, helped with sleep, stress, and the anti-inflammatory components help a lot as well. I played 15 years, I won a championship, and I think my story will help erase that stigma of people thinking it’s a gateway drug.
CN: Can you talk a little bit about the drug testing in the NBA and what that was like for you when you were in the league?
In the NBA, they give you three strikes for drugs in general. I don’t think cannabis should be called a drug anymore, but it’s still called a drug in the NBA. I had 2.75 strikes in about 15 years. I got caught twice. If you think you’re going to fail, you are allowed to call the drug program and admit yourself willingly. I did that twice even though they are supposed to allow it once. The third strike is suspension for five days, which is a lot of money missed, and it becomes public record. Luckily, I avoided that in my career.
Something interesting in going through the drug program a few times was talking to the guys who run it about how many players were in for cannabis alone. There are over 400 players in the NBA, and at the time I was in [the program], there were over 200 players in just for weed. It’s ridiculous ‘cause the league says they want what’s best for the players, but they’re pumping us full of opioids that are gonna mask one problem and cause another. Then they want to suspend us, fine us and maybe cost us our jobs over consuming cannabis. That’s why myself, Al Harrington and some other athletes are pushing the needle on the NBA. We understand how beneficial this plant is.
If [the league] would do their research, which they are doing now, they’ll find they can use [cannabis] to prolong athlete’s careers. Normally the NBA is at the forefront of all issues, but we’re actually last right now when it comes to the use of cannabis or CBD. Hockey, major league baseball and even the NFL are kind of rewriting their policies when it comes to this, but I think we’ll be catching up shortly.
CN: You have said that you used cannabis while playing in the NBA. Did you use it for stress relief, for physical ailments or both?
At the beginning, it was psychological. I started [using cannabis] at 14 or 15 years old, and I had a really tough childhood – a lot of violence, drugs and abuse. Cannabis allowed me to escape, to focus, to sleep at night peacefully. So, in the beginning, it was more psychological. As I got older, my body was getting beat up with playing in the NBA, so I needed the relief component as well.
I risked a lot smoking it throughout my career, but there was no other outlet for me. People often don’t understand how mental this game is. If you’re fortunate enough to make it in the NBA, you’re a one percenter. Then the mental approach of the game kicks in – it’s really a mental space and a mental game. Cannabis always helped me control the mental side, and this is why I’m a huge advocate.
CN: Kind of like your NBA career, it’s hard to keep track of all the things you’ve accomplished while working in the cannabis industry – there have been so many! Can you give us a run-down of some favorite projects/ventures?
MB: My first thing is advocacy. The second I retired, I started speaking [about cannabis]. I was able to executive produce a piece for Bleacher Report called B/R x 4/20, and it was the first time you ever saw retired NBA and NFL players smoking cannabis on television, telling the world why [they] used it. I was kind of worried about how the world was gonna take to professional athletes on TV smoking weed, but it was nothing but positivity. That paved the way for me to freely speak for it.
I teamed up with UCLA for a little bit to work on their cannabis research program. I’m a part owner of Seven Leaves, which is a cannabis company in my hometown of Sacramento. We’re growing under 3,000 lights right now and really making a splash in the space. I teamed up with Eaze and have an advisory role on their Momentum Program, helping get into the social equity space and allowing people of color to have an equal opportunity. If you look at the numbers, there are only about 3 percent people of color in the cannabis space, which is terrible in my opinion. I’m proud to say I’m really helping push this movement forward.
CN: How do you feel about the equity programs that are in place now. Do you think that they’re effective at all, or do they still have a long way to go?
MB: It’s a lot to handle. Starting them was the right thing to do, but starting and actually finishing are two different things. I think there’s plenty that needs to be learned in the process. You are giving people who have never run or owned a business the opportunity to compete in a very competitive market. That’s why I think a lot of the minority [business owners] don’t last – because our people don’t have expertise in running businesses overall. I think there should be programs that allow [people of color] to be part of [the industry] but also educate them, which I think is a huge part of anyone’s success. The Momentum Program through Eaze is educating [people], and there’s a handful of other programs out there that are teaching people the ropes, so when they get in a position to secure licensing and try to go vertical in their business, they’re fully equipped.
CN: If you could pick one thing to change about the cannabis industry right now, what would it be?
MB: Just equal footing for minorities. That’s it. Like I’ve said, I think we were affected most by [the War on Drugs] but are still last in line. We missed prohibition, we missed the Gold Rush, and we can’t miss this Green Rush. That is my goal coming into this space – to continue to educate people, create opportunities and jobs and situations for people of color to excel in. We’ve been directly affected by this the most – losing our dads, our brothers, our sisters, our aunts, uncles, grandparents either to death or jail because of this plant. We need our reparations for this.
CN: This past year, with the Black Lives Matter movement breaking through to the mainstream, we saw many companies worldwide making statements in support of Black lives like never before. Were you observing the cannabis industry’s response, and do you think they handled it well compared to other industries?
MB: I think it’s important for all industries to do something. Now we’ve pulled back the blanket of how nasty this country has been at times and still can be. I think businesses want to align themselves with our people and in our communities, but I think what is important – and a lot of businesses miss the boat with this – is they’re trying to fix stuff in our communities with nobody from our communities guiding them. That’s why I think it’s important for myself to be a part of this movement.
For example, if you have no idea what my community is like, or what Compton is like, or the Chicago ghettos, how can you effectively help? Sometimes money is thrown at the biggest name or the biggest corporation, and they may not actually be doing the best work for those communities. It takes a little bit of due diligence; these companies need to be doing their homework.
CN: We saw a video of you bringing that sentiment to the national stage when you were pushing Biden about the controversial 1994 crime bill*. What was that moment like, and how did you feel about his response?
MB: The moment was surreal. I wasn’t gung-ho about Biden and Harris because with both of their track records, they’ve done a lot of damage in our communities. But I got the opportunity to go out there and talk to him and meet him, speak for him at a rally and go to some voting polls. He wanted minorities to vote for him, and the first thing that people are going to bring up is the crime bill. Hearing him break down the crime bill, describing the parts that he was against while understanding that he couldn’t get everything that he wanted, he went with what was presented after there was pushback – because we needed something at that time. I’m not saying the crime bill was the answer, but we needed something. The government put guns and drugs in the hood in the early ‘80s. I was just excited at the opportunity to get to talk to [Biden], and I really felt like we helped him get in office. Now our job is to hold him and Kamala Harris accountable.
*The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, now known as the 1994 crime bill, gave billions in funding to state prisons and police while disenfranchising people of color.
CN: Do you think decriminalization and adult-legalization will continue to be led by the states, or will the Biden-Harris administration bring about federal cannabis laws?
MB: I’m hoping state-by-state [cannabis legislation] continues, but it would be great to get a federal overhaul and just legalize it. Once we figure out a sweet point for taxation, this is going to be a huge revenue maker for all these states. Cannabis is the one thing that brings everyone together. I feel like if everyone smoked weed, the world would be a better place overall, and that’s no bullsh*t. Hopefully this plant can not only bring financial stability to states across the country, but also bring people together.
CN: Since you are a father and family man, as well as a cannabis advocate, have you had any talks about the plant with your kids?
MB: You know, we had that conversation when [my twins] were…about nine maybe? I never smoke in front of my kids, but one night I put them to sleep and went out to smoke a joint by the pool. I guess one of the boys had looked through their window and saw me smoking because they came down the next morning and said, “Dad, if you smoke cigarettes, your lungs are gonna turn black!” So, I kept it real and said, “You know how Daddy plays basketball and his back, knees and ankles hurt? When they give me medicine [for the pain], it gives me an upset stomach. And when I smoke a joint, it makes all my pain go away and helps me sleep.” One of the twins was like, “Oh, okay. Well, Dad my ankle hurts. When can I smoke?” I was like, “Oh sh*t.” [Laughs]
CN: This is for the weed nerds out there. Can you tell us what strains you’ve been into lately?
MB: I’ve been really into our homegrown strains. We have a Blue Slush at Seven Leaves that I’m really enjoying. Vovo and Bon Bons [are strains] from our facility that I’m also really enjoying. If you are in California and get a chance, check those out. Hopefully with our expansion, we can start getting them all over the country.
I don’t smoke as much anymore because I’m really busy, and I’m a father of three, but I still do have my two or three joints a day. I wake and bake; I’ll get a mid-day joint; and I’ll have one to put me to sleep, so I’m across the board as far as hybrids, sativas and indicas. It’s just kind of a way of life. Smoking has always been there for me, and it’ll always be there for me. I will continue to advocate for it, and hopefully help change some regulations in professional sports and even some laws.
The NBA halted their cannabis testing program when the 2019-2020 season resumed in order to avoid unnecessary contact due to COVID-19 concerns. This policy has continued throughout the 2020-2021 season. The NBA has not made a formal statement or confirmed if they will discontinue testing or penalize players for cannabis use.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Former NBA star and ESPN basketball analyst Paul Pierce was in Boston over the weekend, stopping at a marijuana dispensary to promote his new line of “Truth Number 34” cannabis products. During his visit, the former Boston Celtics forward told fans and dispensary customers that the new brand’s products are as reliable as he was on the court with the clock ticking down to zero.
“I know we’re going to bring something you can depend on, something you can go to, something that’s clutch,” Pierce said at the promotional appearance on Sunday.
“Similar to my play,” he added. “That’s what my product is going to be.”
Pierce announced earlier this year that he would be launching his new brand in the capital of Massachusetts, where legal sales of adult-use cannabis began in 2018. Plans for the new venture include a line of cannabis edibles, topicals and concentrates sold under the brand name Truth, which was Pierce’s nickname as an NBA player. A signature strain of cannabis flower is slated to land on dispensary shelves next year.
“I have such a great connection with Boston,” Pierce told the Boston Globe in May, “so I’m excited to bring the brand there first and educate people on the plant—how it can help in everyday life and also in sports and recovery.”
Paul Pierce on Cannabis For Health
Pierce became a vocal cannabis advocate after surviving a brutal stabbing attack at a Boston nightclub in September 2000. He said that cannabis had saved his life after the assault, which nearly killed him and left him psychologically traumatized. Although Pierce recovered physically remarkably quickly, he struggled with paranoia, anxiety, depression and insomnia after the attack.
“I was dealing with a lot of depression and anxiety and sleep issues—a lot,” he said. “So I really leaned more on cannabis. But it was difficult, man.”
Pierce described how pharmaceuticals prescribed by the team doctors were ineffective and had undesirable if not dangerous side effects.
“Athletes don’t even know what’s in these pills. The league doctors just say, ‘Take this, take that, here’s a prescription,’” he said. “We get addicted to that stuff. It’s so harmful for your body. You don’t realize your liver and all your other organs are taking a pounding.”
“You really couldn’t do it while you were playing during the season because of the tests, but there were times I couldn’t even help it — I took an edible or smoked a joint just to get some sleep, and had to deal with the consequences,” he added. “It was really bad for me early on.”
Pierce Fired by ESPN After Posting Racy Weed Video
After retiring from the NBA in 2017, Pierce took a job as a basketball analyst for ESPN, working on the sports network’s shows The Jump and NBA Countdown. But after he posted an Instagram video earlier this year that showed him smoking marijuana with scantily clad women twerking in the background, Pierce was fired in April by ESPN, which is owned by family-oriented entertainment conglomerate Disney.
Pierce apparently took the job loss in stride, however, posting a video on Instagram the day after being fired in which he shared his positive attitude with the world.
“Yo, just want to thank all my supporters and thank my haters and everything,” Pierce said in the video. “Check it out, bigger and better things coming, baby. Don’t worry about it. You fall twice, you get up three times. Just always remember to smile, baby.”
Only three weeks later, he posted another video that showed him surrounded by cannabis plants in a cultivation facility, hinting at the upcoming business venture.
“We’re over in the lab, baby,” he said while panning the camera, adding “Coming soon, baby.”
NBA player Kevin Durant and Weedmaps announced a new partnership last week that will make the basketball star and online cannabis marketplace teammates in addressing the ongoing stigma against cannabis. Under the multiyear agreement, Durant and his financial enterprise Thirty Five Ventures will work to break down the negative stereotypes associated with cannabis while elevating the conversation around the plant’s potential for athlete wellness and recovery.
“I think it’s far past time to address the stigmas around cannabis that still exist in the sports world as well as globally,” Durant told ESPN. “This partnership is going to help us continue to normalize those conversations, as well as create content, events, and a lot more through our Boardroom media network. This is just the beginning for us.”
The deal between Weedmaps and Durant, which reportedly took six months to negotiate, comes at a time when the relationship between athletes and cannabis is under intense scrutiny. Several professional leagues have changed their policies on cannabis or testing for its use. But the stigma against marijuana continues, as could be clearly seen this summer when sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was denied the chance to compete in the Olympic Games after testing positive for THC in a qualifying meet.
“It’s no secret that many of the present attitudes toward cannabis are rooted in outdated beliefs and, frankly, lies about the plant that have been perpetuated for decades,” Weedmaps CEO Chris Beals told Marijuana Moment, adding that the aim of the new efforts is to provide a “fresh dialogue about how cannabis can be used for athlete recovery.”
“Through this partnership we’ll look to further break down the stigmas that have made cannabis use, particularly among athletes, so taboo, while also providing broader education about the plant’s many wide-ranging benefits and its potential for overall wellness,” Beals added.
Durant and Weedmaps Deal Includes Boardroom Sponsorship
Under the strategic partnership, Weedmaps will also sponsor the Boardroom, a media network founded by Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman that features an inside look at the business of sports. Durant, the Brooklyn Nets forward with two NBA championships under his belt, has been a vocal advocate for cannabis and has even invested in the industry. His open support for cannabis is rare for the NBA, which still has rules on the books that mandate four drug tests for cannabis each year. That policy was put on hold last year as the league went into a competition bubble in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, and the pause on testing was extended into the 2020-21 season.
“The band aid has been ripped off in the sports world,” Durant said while announcing the deal with Beals and Kleinman on the “Boardroom: Out of Office” podcast, adding “it’s kind of an undercover thing that players use cannabis, and use it throughout when they’re actively playing.”
The NBA’s ban on cannabis still exists, and representatives of the league and the players union have told ESPN “that there is ongoing dialogue about marijuana but currently no concrete plans to formally change the rule.”
Rules On Cannabis and Sports Changing Slowly
Other professional sports leagues, however, have already made changes to their cannabis policies. In 2019, Major League Baseball removed cannabis from the league’s list of banned substances, allowing players to use marijuana without fear of reprisals. And last year, the NFL changed its substance use policy, eliminating suspensions for positive tests for all drugs, cannabis included. For Durant, the changes seem overdue.
“I thought it was always interesting that the rest of the world was a little slower to be open about cannabis and its use, but to see, walking down the street—I live in San Francisco—you walk around the corner, there’s four or five dispensaries right on the corner,” Durant said.
Yet “athletes are still being tested four times a year for cannabis, and it just felt like the world was starting to close in on how people felt about the use of cannabis, and now it’s an open dialogue and it’s been amazing to hear,” he continued.
The deal between Durant and Weedmaps also includes a plan for the online cannabis resource to produce original content in collaboration with Boardroom. As part of Weedmaps’ broader sports and wellness initiative, the partnership with Thirty Five Ventures has plans to “further educate consumers about the plant’s potential for wellness and recovery,” according to a statement from Weedmaps about the deal. Former NBA player Matt Barnes, a cannabis supporter who admits he smoked marijuana through much of his 14-year career, believes that support from stars like Durant can lead to the acceptance of cannabis for all athletes.
“There’s a shifting culture and it takes a superstar like KD to embrace this and help others not be afraid to discuss the benefits,” said Barnes. “This has been a process. There have been meetings going on with the league and union for several years and both sides have hired experts to investigate this. This is a big step.”
Eaze and a former NBA athlete are joining together to launch Ginger Commerce, a brand-new platform.
Two Eaze co-founders and a former NBA athlete are partnering together to create a direct-to-consumer (DTC) service called Ginger Commerce.
Ginger Commerce seeks to change the usual way consumers purchase cannabis products by allowing brands to be able to directly communicate with consumers. The company’s thought behind this approach is to “disrupt” the reigning loyalty of certain popular brands, and give other brands a chance to grow and connect with customers. Any brand on Ginger Commerce is given complete control over “customer experience, customer engagement, sales promotions, pricing and more.”
CEO and Founder of Ginger Commerce Roie Edery is a cannabis tech pioneer with years of experience in the industry. He’s the co-founder of well-known cannabis delivery company Eaze, where he held a position as the lead of product and operations.
“Our purpose-built solution with Ginger is a disruptive approach for both consumers and brands alike,” he said in a press release. “Ginger opens the door to better pricing, better offers and more convenient ways for consumers to engage and receive their cannabis. With us, brands have the ability to directly communicate with and market to its customers. What does that mean? Unearthing their brand loyalists and creating new ones.”
Edery is working alongside longtime partner Aleksey Klempner, the co-founder and CTO of Ginger Commerce. Together, they’ve worked on a total of four companies in the last 10 years. Aside from Ginger Commerce, the duo has partnered up with Eaze (Klempner was also a co-founder of the company, as well as former head of engineering), Wayv (an online B2B service) and CLICK, an oral cannabis spray.
Edery and Klempner welcome former NBA athlete Omri Casspi into the fold as well, both as a co-founder as well as an investor. Casspi is most well-known for his career as a forward for the Sacramento Kings, although he has played on many teams over the course of his career. Casspi is also a co-founder of the oral cannabis spray company CLICK.
Edery, Klempner and Casspi all believe that Ginger Commerce has the potential to change the way consumers discover new cannabis products in California. Brands such as Big Pete’s Treats, a cannabis-infused cookie company based out of Santa Cruz, California, are getting on board. Edibles are a competitive industry, especially in the realm of cookies.
Big Pete’s Treats CEO Pete Furtado, Jr. is enthusiastic about working with Ginger Commerce. “We’re super excited to partner up with Ginger,” he said. “Being able to offer our fans a top-notch delivery experience straight from our brand is what we’ve been waiting for. Especially for our long time loyal customers, this makes it easy, and we’re looking forward to engaging with and growing our newfound Cookie Club.”
The cannabis industry has been operating the same way for many years, but Ginger Commerce has the potential to mix things up. Edery is an ardent believer that the company will be able to help new brands get the spotlight they deserve.
“Especially for new and up and coming brands, or brands that require education, it is extremely difficult to penetrate and get on store shelves or listed on marketplace platforms in California,” he said. “They are very selective and it’s competitive to get carried by those channels. Our DTC levels the playing field, giving brands a chance to acquire customers online, tell their brand story with their own voice, and control the entire experience without having to be beholden to retail or marketplace channel decision makers.”