Your favorite marijuana brand could soon be endorsed by an NBA superstar

By Matthew Casey
Published: Thursday, May 4, 2023 - 7:00am
Updated: Thursday, May 4, 2023 - 9:29am

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Ricky Williams
Matthew Casey/KJZZ
Former NFL player Ricky Williams has a brand of marijuana called Highsman.

Reggae music played as a yoga instructor coached her students through the upward dog pose. 

The class — called GanjaFlow, held on marijuana’s big holiday on the grass by Tempe Town Lake — had a special guest: 1998 Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams.

“Yoga comes from India. And the word ‘indica’ actually means a plant grown from India. And so they go way, way back, even in the ancient scriptures,” said Williams.

Indica is also a category of marijuana strains. Illegal use got Williams repeatedly suspended from the National Football League. An immense talent who teams mortgaged futures on, he was laughed at and called a bum.

“I kind of felt like we’re all put on this Earth for a purpose. And as we go through life, that purpose starts to reveal itself. And for me, it became pretty obvious that there's a lot of misinformation about cannabis out there,” said Williams.

Fast forward less than 20 years, and Williams can profit legally from what made him an outcast. As he stretched, an associate went yogi-to-yogi giving away preroll joints of his favorite strains. 

“Highsman, yeah. It’s a cannabis lifestyle brand,” said Williams.

Ricky Williams
Matthew Casey/KJZZ
Yogis who went to the 4/20 version of GanjaFlow got to work out with former NFL player Ricky Williams (back row center) who was in Phoenix to promote his marijuana brand Highsman.

Such wordplay could have once come from a writer mocking Williams. But now the NFL has spent $1 million to research cannabis. Pro baseball and basketball no longer ban it. Plus the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement may authorize a giant leap toward ending prohibition. Turns out Williams was ahead of his time.

“It's cool, I feel like at the end of my life, I’ll have interesting stories to tell about something. Some massive change I saw in the world that I actually contributed to,” said Williams.

Arizona in the 2020s has seen major culture shifts. Marijuana is legal, and a just ratified labor deal reportedly lets NBA players endorse brands found in licensed dispensaries. A one-time taboo of betting on the Phoenix Suns to beat the Denver Nuggets Friday night is state-sanctioned behavior.

The NBA players union did not answer if players will be allowed to promote and invest in marijuana ventures starting in July. But reports from the Athletic and Reuters saying they will have stirred excitement in the local cannabis industry.

“I would say that, you know, in general, people enjoy vapes for their convenience, it's really easy to use. For their discretion,” said Josh Hirschey, president of Timeless.

The company’s vape products are sold here and in four other states. Hirschey and a couple of his business partners are Arizona natives. Their Phoenix Suns memories go back to the 1980s.

“It's in our DNA. It's part of our culture. We grew up with it. And we're diehard Suns fans.”

Hirschey said Timeless has a suite at Suns games to entertain customers. The company has built a relationship with the team hoping that cannabis sponsorships could someday be allowed.

“So now to be able to maybe take that to the next level and officially work with somebody, or with a player in the NBA, that would absolutely be a dream of ours for sure,” he said.

Former NFL player Ricky Williams (left) takes part in GanjaFlow yoga
Matthew Casey/KJZZ
Former NFL player Ricky Williams (left) takes part in GanjaFlow yoga on 4/20 in Tempe.

But Hirschey first has to know exactly what the NBA’s labor deal says.

Even if the league lets superstars promote marijuana brands, another endorsement contract may forbid it. Attorney Laura Bianchi recommends taking a holistic approach.

“And so they're still going to have things like morality clauses that unfortunately we've got to look at and acknowledge. And this becomes a financial and a business decision,” she said.

The choice the athlete faces is whether to risk losing income by promoting a product that companies which pay them see as unethical, no matter how many states legalize marijuana.

“I think it’s archaic. But that doesn't mean that those more traditionally conservative industries don't still have that viewpoint. And so I think, while we have this issue of federal illegality, you're still going to have to consider that,” said Bianchi.

The Drug Enforcement Administration still classifies marijuana as having no accepted medical use and able to cause severe addiction. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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