Former NBA player Matt Barnes knows the value of a crucial assist.
In fact, over the course of his 15-year career, Barnes was responsible for dishing out 1,691 of them. Following a 2017 championship run with the Golden State Warriors, Barnes retired from playing but he’s kept plenty busy as an advocate and advisor within the cannabis industry.
In an interview over Zoom last week, Barnes detailed his own personal history with the plant that ultimately led to his current work.
“I first started using it when I was fourteen,” Barnes says, “and that continued all through high school, college, and my NBA career. And I didn’t get through unscathed, you know. I failed a couple of times.”
In interviews, as well as on the All This Smoke podcast he co-hosts with Stephen Jackson (another former Warrior), Barnes has detailed the extreme lengths he sometimes went to avoid testing positive for cannabis on league-mandated drug tests. During his stints in the NBA’s drug program, Barnes recalls making friends with the people running the program.
“There are maybe 450 guys in the NBA,” Barnes explains, “and they told me that when I was in there, there were over 200 guys currently in the program for cannabis alone. That was really a jaw-dropper. And it was everyone from superstars to rookies.”
On Friday, Dec. 4, news broke that the NBA would not test players for marijuana in the 2020-21 season, continuing a policy first adopted for play in the Orlando bubble earlier this year. Though explained as a way of avoiding unnecessary contact as a heightened Covid-19 safety protocol, it may spell the beginning of the end for the league’s cannabis testing policy.
Upon retiring, Barnes actually met with the core team at Eaze to discuss the idea of releasing a custom pre-roll from the athlete on the delivery service’s menu. He ultimately nixed the idea, which he describes as “low-hanging fruit” in favor of an advocacy-first approach centered around education and information. His interest in working with Eaze, however, remained high.
He subsequently went on to briefly team with his alma mater, UCLA, to raise funds for a cannabis research program at the university and has spoken to both the NBA and the Player’s Association about the role of cannabis in the league. Barnes is also the partial owner of Seven Leaves, a cannabis company based in his hometown of Sacramento.
Along the way, he’s offered advice and shared his perspective with a variety of folks who have sought his counsel.
“I became, not necessarily a guru, but just like a go-to guy for athletes,” Barnes says of his ad-hoc services as a professional athlete willing to speak openly about using weed, “because they knew that I was speaking for them through my past.”
Indeed, Barnes’ relationship with cannabis extends as far back as he can remember — long before he’d ever tried it himself. As a child, Barnes says his family was personally affected by the policies informally known today as the War on Drugs.
“Although I was fortunate enough to make it out,” Barnes notes, “my parents were functioning drug addicts. My dad sold weed and went to jail for selling weed. My dad sold other drugs and went to jail for selling other drugs, so I’m someone who has lived this story. From the age of 3 or 4, in my earliest memories, there were drugs around me.”
Barnes explains that since retiring, he’s seen a lot of corporations like Eaze who are looking to help communities of color like the one he grew up in. What he hasn’t seen, however, are these businesses making an effort to consult and dialogue with the very people they’re hoping to benefit.
“A lot of different corporations want to get involved with our community,” he says, “so I think it’s important to actually use people from those communities to figure out what’s best for them. Social equity programs were created for the people most affected by the war on drugs, right, but if you look at the data, minorities account for maybe 3 percent of this space still.”
Thus, when Eaze’s Rashad Johnson called Barnes to discuss the idea of joining the company as an advisor to the Momentum business accelerator program, the one-time “We Believe” Warrior leapt at the chance.
Designed to help equity entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry get licensed and establish durable roots in the market, Momentum’s first class of underserved founders selected were announced last year. Those Momentum “graduates” now have products for sale on the Eaze menu and businesses with open doors.
To date, Eaze customers have purchased nearly $2 million in products made by such social equity partners.
Things are now set to continue with Momentum 2.0, where qualified candidates can apply through Dec. 15 to be selected as one of 10 businesses to receive a $50,000 grant. Additional perks include a 12-week curriculum and the chance to consult with advisors like Barnes.
And as he sees it, his work now is to help direct the spotlight, not hog it.
“I made my money in my last career,” he says. “This is obviously also about making money, but more than that, it’s about allowing other people to really find their footing. We missed Prohibition. We missed the Gold Rush. I don’t feel like minorities can afford to miss this opportunity. That’s why it’s an honor to join Eaze, because they’re doing their part in the community to really make sure that people of color have an equal opportunity to be in this space.”
To learn more about Eaze’s Momentum program, visit eaze.com/momentum.