The NBA players’ union announced a new partnership on Tuesday to promote the sale of a line of CBD products from a business owned by a former star player that will be distributed through Walmart and Amazon.
The relationship between professional athletic organizations and cannabis has been gradually evolving since hemp was federally legalized and more states move to broadly end marijuana prohibition. NBA in particular has been fairly receptive to policy changes that have been pushed for by league’s players’ association.
This newly announced arrangement doesn’t directly involve NBA; rather, it was forged between former player Al Harrington’s company Harrington Wellness and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), making the CBD supplier an “official partner” of the union. As such, the deal to sell the line of Re+Play CBD products is another example of cannabis being normalized in professional sports.
“Re+Play’s partnership with the NBPA will provide consumers with a wealth of trusted, technology-driven products, to help them recover like a pro,” Harrington said in a press release. “As we move into the next phase of the Re+Play brand with our strategic partners at Amazon, the NBPA, and Walmart, we are excited to once again reimagine how we help athletes of all levels recover from pain with CBD and other innovative technology.”
Re+Play’s line includes topicals, including some of which that are infused with the non-intoxicating cannabinoid, as well as other products like kinesiology tape and massage guns.
Amazon and Walmart being involved is also notable, as they are the top two largest retailers globally. Both companies already sell CBD items, but the high-profile launch of this deal again underscores the mainstreaming of cannabis.
“By partnering with Amazon and Walmart, two leading retailers, we can continue our mission to bring high-quality recovery-promoting products to the everyday customer in places that they are looking for them,” Harrington Wellness President Erin Hackney said. “Gaining access to a new set of pain relief-seeking consumers allows Re+Play the opportunity to further establish itself as a trusted brand in the recovery category.”
The first product release from the new partnership is a line of recovery creams that were developed in partnership with another company, Avicanna.
Harrington also owns the marijuana company Viola Brands. And he sat down with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) last year to talk about congressional efforts to end federal prohibition. The leader is expected to unveil a legalization bill long-in-the-works within weeks.
The athlete and entrepreneur has also pushed President Joe Biden to fulfill his campaign promise and issue clemency to people with non-violent federal cannabis convictions.
Meanwhile, NBA announced late last year that it was extending its policy of not randomly drug testing players for marijuana through the 2021-2022 season.
League Commissioner Adam Silver said in December 2020 that the league’s decision on marijuana drug testing, which was made amid the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, could eventually become permanent.
The new deal between Harrington’s CBD company and NBPA is another instance where the league has overlapped with the cannabis industry.
In August 2020, it was announced that the online marijuana marketplace Weedmaps was teaming up with NBA star Kevin Durant for a multi-year partnership that’s aimed at destigmatizing cannabis and showcasing the plant’s potential value for “athlete wellness and recovery.”
For her part, Michele Roberts, then the head of NBPA, joined the board of the major cannabis company Cresco Labs in 2020.
A first-of-its-kind taxpayer-funded marijuana PSA aired in most of New York during an NBA Finals game last month, boldly addressing the racially discriminatory harms of cannabis criminalization and highlighting steps that state regulators are taking to right the wrongs of prohibition.
Outside of NBA, it was reported in June that the MLB is now allowing baseball teams in the league to sell sponsorships to cannabis companies that market CBD products, as long as they meet certain criteria.
MLB in particular has stood out among other professional sports leagues as more willing to respond to the changing marijuana policy landscape. For example, it clarified in a memo in 2020 that players will not be punished for using cannabis while they aren’t working, but they can’t be personally sponsored by a marijuana company or hold investments in the industry.
The league also said at the time that it was teaming with NSF International to analyze and certify legal, contaminant-free CBD products in order to allow teams to store them on club premises. It’s unclear if this latest development is directly related to that collaboration.
The update built upon MLB’s decision in 2019 to remove cannabis from the league’s list of banned substances. Before that rule change, players who tested positive for THC were referred to mandatory treatment, and failure to comply carried a fine of up to $35,000. That penalty is now gone.
The policies were the result of negotiations between MLB and its players union. Both parties agreed to approach the league’s drug policy with an emphasis on treatment rather than penalties. Players who test positive for opioids or cocaine, for example, will be penalized only if they refuse treatment.
A number of athletic governance bodies have recently relaxed rules around cannabinoids as laws change and medical applications become more widely accepted.
For example, students athletes that are part of the NCAA would no longer automatically lose their eligibility to play following a positive marijuana test under rules that are were recommended by a key committee earlier this year.
The conversation around drug testing and professional sports came to the fore last summer after U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended from the Olympics over a positive THC test. She admitted to using cannabis in a legal state after learning of her mother’s passing.
The runner said that she’d feel “blessed and proud” if the attention her case raised would affect a policy change for other athletes. Even the White House and President Joe Biden himself weighed in on the case, suggesting that there’s a question about whether the marijuana ban should “remain the rules.”
Meanwhile, the NFL’s drug testing policy already changed demonstrably in 2020 as part of a collective bargaining agreement.
NFL players no longer face the possibility of being suspended from games over positive tests for any drug—not just marijuana—under a collective bargaining agreement. Instead, they will face a fine. The threshold for what constitutes a positive THC test was also increased under the deal.