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Cliff Robinson On Medical Cannabis Use In The NBA

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Blazers great Cliff Robinson advocates change.

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On November 3, 1998, Oregon passed Measure 67 and became the second state to legalize medical cannabis; on November 4, 2014, Oregon passed Measure 91 and became the third state to legalize recreational cannabis; and last Thursday, with the announcement of his "Uncle Spliffy" business venture, former Portland Trail Blazer Cliff Robinson became the highest profile athlete to publicly endorse the use of cannabis as an alternative medicine for professional athletes.

"When people get the tremendous amount of mental and physical stress that athletes have to endure over the course of a season, I think their bodies take a pounding." Robinson told Blazer’s Edge. "Just from the pounding itself, the CBDs (cannabidiols), the oils, and the topicals would be great for athletes."

Although medical cannabis is legal in 24 states, as well as recreationally legal in four, the National Basketball Association’s 2011 collective bargaining agreement lists it as a prohibited substance. As such, players who test positive for cannabis are subject to disciplinary action.

Article IV, Subsection C:

If a player tests positive for marijuana, or if he is convicted of, or pleads guilty to, the use or possession of marijuana, he will be required to submit to treatment, counseling, and aftercare testing in the Program. A second violation will result in a $25,000 fine, and any subsequent violations will result in a suspension that is 5 games longer than the player’s immediately-preceding marijuana suspension.

Robinson, who was twice reprimanded for cannabis use during his illustrious, 18-season NBA career, hopes to see a policy change in the near future. The NBA’s next opportunity to catch up with the shifting landscape will come with discussion of the 2017 CBA, though in order for a change to occur, Robinson believes more athletes need to follow suit and be vocal.

"Until the next round of talks come around, it’s kind of a moot subject." Robinson acknowledged. "I think it’s going to take athletes themselves to speak out. It’s going to take more athletes who use it as a medicine or responsibly use it as recreational. Until that happens, it’s going to continue to be an uphill climb."

Robinson’s personal cannabis use during his time in the league stemmed from a physical incompatibility with the medicines prescribed by team doctors.

"For me, it was helpful because pharmaceutical drugs… they didn’t do well. My stomach was always sensitive to that kind of stuff, so I pretty much stayed away from it. I used [cannabis] as a tool to calm my stomach; also as a way to just kind of calm my nerves from the mental stress over the course of an NBA season. Everything that they gave us, you had to make sure you ate before you took it, so I was always a little leery of that kind of stuff."

Beyond short term discomfort, certain pharmaceutical drugs can be addictive, causing long term problems for the athletes who rely on them to treat ailments that cannabis could also be used to address, including not only nerve pain, but mental stress and the general pain experienced in a physically taxing NBA season. Cannabis use as a potentially safer treatment for chronic pain has become increasingly available to the general public, but not to professional athletes, who are left with limited options.

"There’s a lot of narcotics that are very addictive, and if you look at any pharmaceutical drug that’s being marketed on television, on the radio, or anything like that, they all come with multiple side effects." Robinson noted. "I think from that standpoint alone, we need to look into alternative means of treating different illnesses."

"There’s many instances where guys have had migraines or issues that have caused them to be off the court, so I would think they would want to take a look at it. [Cannabis] is being used for migraines and there’s so many other different, beneficial uses, you know, it’s just the tip of the iceberg right now."

Robinson, nine years retired and no longer bound by the strictures of the NBA, is preparing to open his own cannabis business here in Portland. Playing off his NBA moniker, "Uncle Cliffy," the store is to be named "Uncle Spliffy," a reference to marijuana cigarettes that contain both cannabis and tobacco. The store will have products by the end of the year, but they will start first with E-commerce at the domain unclespliffy.com.

"We’ll have apparel on that E-commerce store, some hemp-based products, and just kind of grow from there as things continue to come online here in the state." Robinson said. "For us, it’s really about doing it slow, eventually get to the grow, but we’re going to stay away from retail. We’re going to do topicals, extracts, and eventually a flower."

In the meantime, Robinson is set to speak at the Cannabis Collaborative Conference to discuss his business goals on February 4, further cementing himself as an advocate. Regardless of current NBA policy, Robinson hopes to spark a conversation now that can benefit professional athletes in the future.

"I knew it was going to be controversial, but at the end of the day, you can’t make change if you’re not trying to be a part of it."

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