Marvin Washington, New Jersey

When Marvin Washington retired from the NFL in 1999 after 11 seasons with a Super Bowl ring on his finger, he wasn’t thinking about cannabis. The financial industry was where he was headed. Fifteen years later, in 2014, he got approached by a cannabis business looking for a spokesperson.

After hearing about the opportunities, he attended a conference to learn more about the industry. Once there, he says his “mind exploded,” and he began a deep dive into the issues and immediately became an advocate.

“If my advocacy is a three-legged stool, then I was first an advocate for athletes, then as an entrepreneur invested in four companies, and I’m an advocate for the most underserved and hurt.”

In January 2015, Marvin and two other Super-Bowl-winning players authored an opinion piece in the Huffington Post urging the NFL to allow players to use cannabis to manage pain and brain injuries. Even though medical use was allowed in many states at that point, the NFL had a policy of suspending players for even legal medical use. Marvin and the other players asked the NFL to end that policy and to devote resources to studying the potential of CBD for treating head injuries that can result in what they describe as the NFL’s industrial disease: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). They also asked the NFL to take a leadership role in addressing the injustice of racial disparities in drug law enforcement.

Marvin is still concerned with how the NFL is handling the health and safety of athletes, but he’s seen progress that suggests the same Therapeutic Use Exemption that applies to other restricted medications may be available for players who want to use cannabis medicines instead of more dangerous pharmaceuticals.   In recent years, Marvin has focused his attention on the social justice aspect of this issue.

“Enough athletes are speaking out about medical cannabis now,” says Marvin. “As an African-American man, I need to bring the message to my community about the medical and economic benefits of this plant.”

The history of the disproportionate impacts of cannabis prohibition on communities of color has left a legacy that extends into many areas, leaving stigma and limited opportunities.

“We need to mature as an industry,” Marvin says. “We’re still the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk.”

Educating cannabis businesses is part of his mission. Since he serves on the board of directors of six different cannabis companies, he has opportunities to be an agent for change.

“Diversity and inclusion is putting me on a board,” Marvin says. “Once I’m on that board, I have to make sure that company creates social equity by ensuring those who have been affected most by the prohibition of cannabis can be successful in this industry.”

Marvin’s leadership role in advocating for change is no longer just on the athletic and business side. Now he’s taking legal action, too. Marvin is the lead plaintiff in a group of patients suing the U.S. Attorney General to change the scheduling of cannabis, alleging a pattern of racial discrimination in the origin and enforcement of cannabis prohibition.

ASA has just filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of that lawsuit, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. Much has changed for patients and cannabis in America, but for Marvin, social justice and equality are still at stake, and trepidation is attached to the plant for the African American community.

“Some people went from tie-dye to suit and tie,” says Marvin, “But we couldn’t change our color.”

Marvin says stigma still stalks cannabis, but he’s not afraid. He welcomes the conversations that come from telling people he’s in the cannabis industry, and 99% of them have been positive.

“We need more people to come out of the green closet,” he says.

Marvin believes in the power of the whole plant, and thinks it has a place in every medicine cabinet in the U.S.

  “We’re table setters for the people who will see this through,” says Marvin. “The athlete who is going to take this to middle America is probably in junior high now.

This profile was originally published in the September 2020 ASA Activist Newsletter