Kevin Durant aims to destigmatize marijuana use with new partnership

In a significant step, Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant announced a partnership and sponsorship deal with cannabis marketplace Weedmaps on Thursday and said he plans to use his platform to destigmatize marijuana use among athletes.

Durant has been an advocate for the benefits of marijuana in the past and has invested in cannabis-related businesses. It's the furthest an active major pro athlete, especially one with Durant's visibility, has gone in the pot space.

"I think it's far past time to address the stigmas around cannabis that still exist in the sports world as well as globally," Durant told ESPN. "This partnership is going to help us continue to normalize those conversations, as well as create content, events, and a lot more through our Boardroom media network. This is just the beginning for us."

Weedmaps doesn't directly sell marijuana but is an e-commerce platform that guides users to dispensaries. Durant declined to directly discuss personal marijuana usage.

Marijuana remains banned by the NBA but exists in a decriminalized gray area. League rules currently require four random tests for marijuana per year but those tests were informally halted when the league re-started in the Orlando bubble in 2020 and then didn't return in the 2020-21 season.

Representatives from the league office and player's union told ESPN Thursday that there is ongoing dialogue about marijuana but there are currently no concrete plans to formally change the rule. The league still does drug testing and last month suspended Toronto Raptors guard Jalen Harris for a year because of violations of the anti-drug policy.

In part because of the sensitivity of the issue, forging the deal was a drawn-out process. Negotiations with Weedmaps, which became a public company in June, between Durant and business partner Rich Kleiman have lasted the past six months. Other high-profile athletes have endorsed CBD products, including WNBA star Sue Bird, but none with Durant's stature have delved into the marijuana space until now.

"There's a shifting culture and it takes a superstar like KD to embrace this and help others not be afraid to discuss the benefits," said former NBA player Matt Barnes, a marijuana advocate who has said he smoked pot most of his 14-year career. "This has been a process. There have been meetings going on with the league and union for several years and both sides have hired experts to investigate this. This is a big step."

Disciplinary actions for pot violations had slowed before the pandemic. The last player to be suspended for using marijuana was Thabo Sefolosha in 2018.

"I'm not going to wear that as a badge of honor," said Sefolosha, who didn't play last season after 14 years in the league. "I was fighting internally to change the rules. It's something that should've been dealt with a long time ago. I understand the league doesn't want to promote it. I'm not one to advertise marijuana and it's not something I'd encourage my kids to do. I don't want to send the wrong message. But it's a happy substitute for harder drugs, ones the team doctor might even give you, and alcohol, and I had to learn that on my own."

That is what Durant intends to address and plans to stage a campaign by rolling out podcasts and video content under his Boardroom media banner in the coming months. His hope, Durant said, is that some of his peers in the league will join him in discussing marijuana's benefits.

Or as Durant said on the "Boardroom: Out of Office" podcast released Thursday to announce the deal: "The Band-Aid has been ripped off."