Four years ago, Jordan Reed heard about a business opportunity from a friend and knew he wanted to invest. The market for the sector was booming, and the then-Washington tight end had been fascinated by the industry for some time. And he had the funds to get on board: He’d just signed a five-year, $50 million contract extension with $22 million guaranteed.
So, Reed made one of his first long-term investments. He got into cannabis.
Reed, who retired from the NFL earlier this year, no longer plays in the NFL. Instead, the 31-year-old is among the many former athletes who have jumped into the multi-billion dollar business of marijuana.
As his former team juggles injuries, COVID-19 and NFC rivals for a chance to slip into the postseason, Reed’s focus is on the shares he owns in a Colorado grow house, dispensary and processor.
Cannabis, as a legal industry, is still in its infancy in the U.S. Only 18 states have legalized recreational marijuana (including Colorado) — all within the last nine years. Thirty-six states have legalized medical marijuana. The substance remains illegal on a federal level and is classified as a Class 1 drug, putting it in the same category as heroin and LSD.
But there’s money to be made. Legal cannabis sales were a record $17.5 billion in 2020, according to BDSA, a cannabis sales research company. That’s up 46% from the year prior.
Reed is determined to carve out his niche. For now, the one-time Pro Bowler is only an investor — not an operator, meaning he doesn’t grow or sell his own product. But Reed said he’s “definitely looking” to become an operator someday.
Since hanging up in cleats, Reed says he’s become more involved in the marijuana industry — surrounding himself with mentors and leaders from the business to help with his transition out of football.
“I’ve learned a lot, honestly,” Reed told The Washington Times. “I treat it just like football, as far as really just immersing myself into it and getting as much information as I possibly can on a day-to-day basis. … It’s been really a learning experience on just how to do business. Period.”
High (and low) times
Football takes a toll on players, and few understand that reality as well as the oft-injured Reed. Despite the 6-foot-3, 240-pound man’s immeasurable talent and physical gifts — “Jordan Reed vs. The Laws of Physics” read one headline near his peak — the 31-year-old’s career was derailed by nagging ailments and brain-rattling concussions.
Reed suffered 10 documented concussions as a college and pro player — including seven in a seven-year span in the NFL. Doctors advised retirement after he admitted he still felt lingering effects from the head blows.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Reed actively smoked marijuana to cope with the pain over the course of his career. He said he had to “find ways” around the NFL’s rules — which banned the substance — because he felt the drug was a safer alternative than opioids and other pain killers.
“Cannabis was never something I needed to do every day,” said Reed, who played for Washington from 2013 to 2019. “I had full control over my use of cannabis. It was easy for me to say, ‘I’m not going to use it right now. I’m going to use it when I actually need it.’ For me, it was actually beneficial.”
Reed incorporated cannabis use into his rehab. In 2018, when he had the sesamoid bone in each of his big toes removed, Reed said he developed a plan to help overcome the “tremendous pain” from the surgeries and practice.
Over the course of the season, Reed says he would smoke marijuana while he underwent dry needling therapy — a painful treatment that involved medical personnel sticking needles into his feet to break up the scar tissue from surgery. This would be done Tuesday through Friday.
“That season I played 13 games in a row,” he said. “That was the most games I played (consecutively) in a season.”
An unconventional space
If there’s a rush to get into the cannabis industry, athletes have followed the trend.
Stars like Joe Montana, Mike Tyson, former NBA forward Al Harrington and NFL running back Ricky Williams all have gotten into the space — whether as investors or operators.
Tyson, for instance, launched his own strain of cannabis last year called “Tyson Ranch.” Retired NBA star Allen Iverson recently became a brand ambassador for Harrington’s cannabis business, Viola. (Reed declined to share the name of the company he invested in.)
The budding relationship between athletes and those already involved in the cannabis industry is part of an overall “matching process” that makes sense for both parties, said University of Virginia assistant professor of commerce Paul Seaborn.
For cannabis businesses, bringing in an outside investor from the sports realm is a “creative” way to raise capital when federal laws limit the types of bank loans and other funding methods the companies can receive, Mr. Seaborn said.
An athlete’s investment also brings an endorsement — a bonus given the limited ways the companies can market themselves, he said.
For the athletes, Mr. Seaborn said cannabis presents a “strong cultural connection” in which Black athletes can support other Black-related businesses or communities. He pointed to NBA Hall of Famer Chris Webber’s plan to open a $175 million cannabis compound in Detroit.
“The size of the legal market in the U.S. is only going in one direction — and that’s up and up and up,” Mr. Seaborn said.
Still, there are societal stigmas around marijuana that exist — even as public polling has shifted dramatically in recent years in favor of supporting legalization. This past summer, sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was left off the U.S.’ Track and Field team in the Tokyo Olympics after she tested positive for cannabis.
Richardson faced a one-month suspension for taking the drug, which she said she used after learning of her mother’s death.
President Biden, who supports federal decriminalization of the drag though has stopped short of advocating it to be legalized nationwide, said he was “proud” of Richardson, but told reporters: “Rules are rules.”
Leagues like the NBA and NFL technically prohibit cannabis but have relaxed their policies in recent years.
The NFL, for example, agreed to stop suspending players for marijuana under its new collective bargaining agreement — which went into effect this year. The NBA announced recently that players wouldn’t be tested for marijuana for a second straight season.
Growing up, Reed recalls how as an athlete, he tried to stay away from cannabis because of the stigma around it.
When Reed began using marijuana early in his career, he said he occasionally felt bad — like “I was doing something wrong.”
He added he felt less self-conscious about it as he realized how the drug helped him.
Life after football
Dominique Easley, a close friend and former teammate at the University of Florida, has watched as Reed has handled his first few months in retirement.
He said he’s seen Reed throw himself into the business world in ways that can be rare for former athletes. “Honestly, it’s one of the most uplifting transitions that I’ve seen coming out of football,” said Easley, who played in the NFL for four seasons and invests in the same cannabis company as Reed. “Being able to take our skill sets and our drive and our want — to be able to transfer that over to business — he’s definitely showed me, more so, how to operate on the business side.”
Reed said he appreciates Easley’s support, though he admitted that retirement has “had its challenges.”
Football was his life for the last 17 years, and Reed said he misses playing the game.
But he’s tried to maintain a daily routine that replicates the structure of football, and he is determined to take on an active, post-football role as an entrepreneur.
Reed’s business ventures extend beyond cannabis.
He said he’s into real estate and owns a portion of 15 Dunkin’ Donuts in North Carolina. “That’s what I’m up to, man,” Reed said.
But Reed is passionate about cannabis.
Reed and Easley, who are both Black, said that they’re focused on lobbying for federal legalization and advocating for diversity in the cannabis space. They want to see more opportunities for minorities, given the cannabis sector is primarily White.
A 2017 study from Marijuana Business Daily said more than 80% of cannabis businesses are owned by Whites.
At one point during the conversation for this article, Reed noted how legal cannabis was expected to rake in $40 billion by “2024, 2025.” The BDSA indeed projects venues of $41 billion by 2026.
Reed, with time on his hands, had done his research.
“It’s a booming industry,” Reed said. “And it’s not slowing down any time soon.”