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“It’s no secret that many of the present attitudes toward cannabis are rooted in outdated beliefs and, frankly, lies about the plant that have been perpetuated for decades,” Weedmaps CEO Chris Beals told Marijuana Moment, adding that the aim of the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.”