NBA superstar Matt Barnes on ball, business, and getting busted

Matt Barnes smoking cannabis
Digital art by Greg Dubois

Matt Barnes is a former professional athlete known for his unapologetic attitude and a 15-year career in the NBA. He’s a dad, a podcast host, and a cannabis advisor—having turned his decades-long entanglement with weed into a means to uplift his community.

Leafly caught up with Barnes to get his opinion on social equity in the cannabis industry and hear his own tales of toking up.

How Matt met cannabis

Everyone remembers when they were first introduced to weed. Matt started consuming cannabis at age 14 and continued through his time at college and as an NBA player.   

“I’m old school. I smoked in high school and through my career, and I’ve stuck with that. I prefer flower, and I’m not big on edibles. I may use CBD creams every once in a while, but if you were to ask me? I smoke weed. Plain and simple,” he says.

The California cool cat continued to establish his cannabis cred, stating, “In my early playing days, me and two or three of my friends could smoke at least 20 blunts in a day.”

Smoking blunts is one thing, but once you scratch the surface, you see that Barnes is linked to cannabis in several ways.

“Social equity programs in this industry were created because people that look like us were most greatly affected by the war on drugs. My father was affected,” he states. “My family was affected.”

Barnes has spoken openly about how drugs impacted his upbringing, and when you consider his work in cannabis, it all starts to come full circle.

Changing cannabis from within

Matt serves as a senior advisor to Eaze‘s minority-focused cannabis business incubator, and has more to add to the conversation than blunt talk.

“Social equity in cannabis looks like equal footing. I think it’s very important for us to try to capitalize on something that was meant for us. We missed Prohibition. We missed the Gold Rush. This is something that our people should be able to capitalize on. So, I’m doing something to try to give people equal footing and opportunity. Thus far, despite social equity programs existing, we’re still being pushed to the back and the bottom.”

While California may seem like a problem-free weed market, the state is still struggling to keep equity at the forefront of the industry.

Even with billions of dollars flowing into the industry, communities of color don’t necessarily feel like they’re getting their fair share of the business. Barnes is using his connections in hopes that he can promote equitable decision-making in cannabis and move money in the right direction.

“I think the easiest thing in a lot of situations is to throw money, but if that isn’t allocated to the proper areas or to the proper people, it’s misguided money going to the wrong people. They may say ‘we want this, we want that,’ but at the end of the day actions speak louder than words, and we’re not seeing the action.”

Ball is life, but so is weed

Professional sports leagues are notoriously tight on athletes when it comes to testing for THC, and it seemed like something of a miracle that Barnes retired at a time of his own choosing. Turns out, he’s been making connections over cannabis for a long time.

“I definitely did get busted,” Barnes says. “The NBA has a three-strike policy. I failed twice, but I knew the guys in the drug program pretty well, so I had like 2.75 strikes when I retired after 15 years.”

The NBA announced in December 2020 that it would stop randomly testing players for marijuana use during the 2020-21 season, and judging by Matt’s inside info, the league desperately needs to re-evaluate their stance.

Pro athletes eager to embrace cannabis, but are leagues listening?

“Not to make light of being in trouble, but it was interesting because out of 400 guys in the NBA, there were over 200 guys in the NBA drug program for cannabis alone. This is everyone from rookies to superstars. To me, it’s kind of like hustling backwards. I think now there is enough research where leagues can do their homework and see that pumping us full of opioids is masking one problem and causing another.”

Despite the consequences, Matt Barnes is happy he’s been so loud and proud about his cannabis use, sharing that it’s even caused a bit of a mentor effect.

“Guys from other leagues, young and old, come to me and ask me about using cannabis. I have to admit, it was a real job being able to smoke while I played, but I was someone who got an upset stomach from just one painkiller so I made it work.” 

His secret?

“I would keep myself fully hydrated and eat very clean, but I had to constantly sweat. That and detox drinks helped me to pass my tests. I don’t know how many I took over 15 years, but I know it helped to keep my system flushed.”

Like every true stoner, Matt Barnes has had to put his faith in detox drinks to stay employed and humble. We’re just happy he made it out of the league and into the industry.

by Janessa Bailey