Cliff Robinson is excited. The 18-year NBA veteran and All-Star with the Portland Trailblazers has got plenty to be thrilled about lately. Ever since the news hit that Robinson and a few business partners were going in on a grow operation, it’s been kind of a blur. Between his keynote address at last month’s Cannabis Collaborative Conference in Portland, radio interviews, and being featured on a few podcasts, Robinson has been in demand. He might be the most famous professional athlete to come forward and lend his name to the marijuana cause, which he has loved for most of his life.
The Buffalo native stands at the forefront of an industry and a movement bigger than himself or his celebrity, and he knows it. “For me, it was easy to be a part of the conversation and to come out and be a spokesperson for it.” Robinson says. “Some people might not feel comfortable, but I think the more people can voice their positive experiences, the more we legitimize the cannabis industry as a whole.”
Robinson feels that information about cannabis and the industry at large needs to be shared with the public and potential consumers. The antiquated facts and pitfalls of a misunderstood plant need to be revised and updated for this era.
Despite the cannabis industry operating somewhat in the shadows, much work has been going on. “For some years now there have been a lot of smart, talented people in the cannabis field that had to keep information behind closed doors because it wasn’t legal,” he says. “I’m learning every day.”
Known as “Uncle Cliffy” back in his NBA days, Robinson was twice suspended during his playing career due to marijuana. “I took risks when I was playing, and I put myself in jeopardy to be taken off the court and ended up being taken off. Right now I would tell anyone [in the NBA]to not put themselves in that position.” Robinson believes that if NBA players want to use cannabis products during the season, they should be a part of the greater discussion and help spread the message of the good cannabis can do for athletes during the grueling 82-game campaign.
Robinson hopes to capitalize in that arena with the launch of Uncle Spliffy. “Uncle Spliffy is going to focus on the active lifestyle and the people who are out there working their bodies, hitting the gym, and hitting the trails.” Robinson says. Uncle Spliffy is the first to market “sports cannabis,” and the company plans to zero in on products that help with preparation, recovery and relaxation. Products might include topicals, extracts or otherwise. Uncle Spliffy’s products will be high in cannabinoids and include innovative products new to the market. The company plans to roll out some product by year’s end.
An area that Robinson is particularly passionate about is keeping cannabis away from kids. “We should definitely make sure we are not labeling [cannabis products]similar to anything that may appeal to children,” he says. Robinson recalls his first time using cannabis as being way out of his depth. It was only in retrospect and through the lens of experience that he realized he experimented too early. Robinson admits that he was far too young to have experienced it.
“That’s why when I say, ‘Keep it out of the hands of children,’ I’m speaking from experience.” Fifteen at the time, Robinson understands now that when one is still developing as a person, it’s best to have a better understanding of what goes into the body and why. Krista Lisdahl, director of the brain imaging and neuropsychology lab at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee says to think of the teen years as the “last golden opportunity to make the brain as healthy and smart as possible.”
Through education and some positive PR, the cannabis industry has had some success toward shaking stigma and creating new cultural norms for itself. “I think the new information we are seeing out there is helping to shape a new mindset around the industry,” Robinson says. “It’s changing from the so-called ‘stoner’ culture to a more educated, business culture.”
With a more informed society and a better-educated user base, businesses and consumers alike stand to gain should there be a full culture change. “I think that we all need to understand that we are in a unique position to usher in a new age around cannabis,” Robinson adds.
This is an election year with more and more states adopting cannabis use, both medicinally and recreationally, a time many thought would never come. Oregon, where Robinson lives and his operation is located, is positioned to set an example to states “on the fence” and show them that by taking the proper steps, cannabis can not only change local economies but help those who are ailing. “More states are coming online medically and recreationally, so, for me, now was the time to be a part of the conversation,” he says. “This is my comfort zone and this is something that I don’t take lightly.”
If there’s one thing that Robinson wants everybody to know it’s “Reefer Madness is over, and we need to open our eyes to the helpful and beneficial qualities of this beautiful herb.” With a long way to go in rehabilitating the damaged image of the plant Robinson has come to love, he is nevertheless happy to be where he is and eager to spread a positive message. “I’m just excited to be a part of the industry and to have this opportunity to try and bring something unique to the cannabis consumer.”