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When Kevin Durant and his Thirty Five Ventures invested in the cannabis industry a few years ago, they did so with trepidation, concerned about the negative stereotypes surrounding marijuana.
“We thought twice about it,” Durant’s business manager and Thirty Five Ventures and Boardroom co-founder Rich Kleiman said.
Now much more comfortable in the space after educating themselves, Durant and Kleiman have partnered with Weedmaps, a multi-faceted cannabis technology and business platform, to help eliminate the stigma and have open conversations about marijuana.
As part of the deal, Weedmaps will become an official sponsor of Boardroom, the multimedia network founded by Durant and Kleiman, and Boardroom will produce an original content series on marijuana in conjunction with Weedmaps which will host a sports and wellness section on its web site.
“This partnership has been a long time in the works and the reason was because of the subject matter and Kevin being at the forefront of our business,” Kleiman said. “We had to really think through what this meant for our organization and him deciding to make such a big public partnership with a company like Weedmaps, and instantly we both agreed it was the right time, it was the right business.”
The two sides announced the partnership on Thursday and also addressed it in a podcast.
“As a business, Thirty Five Ventures is really encouraged by the growth opportunity in the cannabis industry,” Durant told USA TODAY Sports. "Partnering with a tech leader like Weedmaps is a game-changer, and together, we plan to work to normalize the way the plant is perceived – it's crazy that there is still a stigma around it.”
Athletes partnering with cannabis companies isn’t new. Former NBA player Al Harrington is the founder and CEO of Viola, a company that produces marijuana products that are sold in legal dispensaries in the United States. Former NFL running back Ricky Williams has been an outspoken proponent of marijuana and has worked with Weedmaps.
But it’s rare that a current athlete and one as prominent as Durant takes on such a front-facing role.
“This is an industry that is seeing incredible growth and is showing no signs of slowing,” Durant said. “There's still so much untapped in the market, especially as more states move towards legalization and more studies show that cannabis has real wellness and recovery benefits."
There is another side to it, too. Kleiman and Durant, who just won a gold medal for USA Basketball will address the serious side of marijuana – those who use it for medicinal purposes. But they will also acknowledge those adult-use consumers who may choose cannabis over a glass of wine. There is the enjoyment aspect they don't want to ignore.
“There is a broader story and we in the industry have struggled for so long to have people logically, rationally engage in the conversation,” Weedmaps CEO Chris Beals said. “It’s almost become scrubbed and sanitized and we wanted a partner who had reach but had soul, life, thoughtfulness and creative ideas. There’s so many interesting and fun things we can do. It doesn’t all have to sound like a clinical lecture.
"There’s nice tonality to this where it’s a real conversation on Boardroom and never have we been more in need of normal, real, human conversations and say, ‘We’re talking about weed here.’ ”
Both sides are particularly interested about the intersection of sports and cannabis. Kleiman was angered that Sha’Carri Richardson’s positive marijuana test cost her a chance to run the 100 at the Tokyo Olympics. Yes, it was on a banned substance list, and she knew it, but Kleiman’s point is shouldn’t have been on a banned list.
“Everyone knows in their right mind knows cannabis in no way can enhance her performance but antiquated rules kept her from participating,” Kleiman said. “While everybody cried out for her, the reality is, she didn’t run get to run in the Olympics which she wanted to do. We don’t want cases like that to happen again.”
The NFL, MLB and NHL no longer automatically suspend athletes for marijuana use. The NBA and WNBA have the strictest rule, with marijuana banned. However, the NBA hasn’t conducted random testing since it restarted its season after a pandemic-related hiatus in 2020. Kleiman predicted the league will stop random testing for marijuana.
“The NBA understands after having no random testing, there’s no going back from it,” he said. “The days of putting weed on a banned substance list and testing at random four times a year, I don’t see that coming back and I don’t think players are willing to embrace that back.”
Kleiman also understands the need for responsible use, just as players have a similar responsibility with alcohol.
“Obviously, not show up to work high or let it compromise their work. But they won’t. They're professionals,” he said.
Those are some the topics Boardroom will cover on its series.
“The conversation should be calmer and more normal and more open,” Kleiman said.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kevin Durant entering business venture to curb stigma of marijuana