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NBA Star Karl-Anthony Towns Is Joining the Fight for Equal Access to Medical Marijuana

As the topic of cannabis continues to permeate every facet of professional sports, Towns has become the first active professional basketball star to publicly call for drug policy reform.

by Zach Harris

Lead photo via Instagram user Sally Clarksean

Since ex-Golden State Warrior and Denver Nugget Al Harrington let the world in on his new life as a canna-business CEO, using LeBron James’ media platform Uninterrupted to argue for cannabis use in the NBA, reefer has made its way into every nook and cranny of professional basketball. Starting with ex-commissioner David Stern, who was convinced on camera by Harrington’s explanation of CBD, to handfuls of other retired players and working coaches Stan Van Gundy and Steve Kerr, it sure seems like a pro-ganja attitude is continuously spreading across the NBA. But while The King was happy to lend his bandwidth to Harrington for his "Concept of Cannabis" mini-doc, basketball’s active superstars have remained silent on the subject, with crossover celebrities and active stars taking a back seat on the still-controversial drug — until now.

In an in-depth interview with ESPN’s Nick Friedell, Minnesota Timberwolves center and 2016 Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns delved deeply into the subject of medical marijuana in both sports and mainstream society, stating unequivocally that he believes commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA should remove cannabis from the league’s banned substance list.

“I think a lot of times fans forget that sometimes there may be some things that are banned that may not be the greatest for playing basketball, but for everyday living off the court, sometimes those things that are legal could help us,” Towns told ESPN. “These guys, just because we're NBA athletes, we're not super humans. Some of us have conditions that could use [medicinal marijuana] to our benefit for everyday living, just taking care of our kids and our families.”

Like so many cannabis supporters before him, Towns, who says he has never tried cannabis in any form, says that his views on the sweet leaf were changed by the experiences of loved ones, where he saw the all-natural medicine work wonders in ways that traditional pharmaceuticals couldn’t.

“My girlfriend has an autistic nephew, and you realize those properties of marijuana can do a lot of good for kids and for adults,” Towns said, presumably referencing cannabidiol, or CBD. “If I wasn't playing basketball, I wanted to be in the medical field. My mother's in the medical field. I went to school to be a kinesiologist at Kentucky, which is the study of the kinetic movement of the body. So if I have patients, my job is to take care of people. The reason I brought that up is because there's a lot of research that shows medical marijuana has benefits to help autistic children live their lives easier. Not smoking, but the properties of [marijuana] make his life so much easier, and he now feels like a regular kid.”

Towns’ public stance is groundbreaking in a league where players are regularly reprimanded, and even suspended, for cannabis use. But like comments from Detroit Pistons’ coach Stan Van Gundy and Golden State Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr last month, the Olympic hooper and Minnesota star turned heel when it came time to discuss recreational cannabis use, dropping his enthusiasm for a more moderate approach.

“You don't have to actually make it ‘Mary J’ [or] ‘Half Baked.’ You don't have to do it like that, but you could use the [chemical] properties in it to make a lot of people better,” Towns told ESPN. “That's something that Adam Silver has to do. That's out of my control, but maybe legalizing marijuana. Not fully legal where people are chimneys but using [marijuana] as a beneficial factor as an athlete, as a person living daily.”

By separating medical and recreational cannabis, Towns, along with Van Gundy, Kerr and others before him, is essentially taking two steps forward and one step back. For athletes who carry psychological pressure, physical pain, and the stresses of everyday life on and off the court, the line between medical and recreational cannabis use is heavily blurred, especially considering the other accepted recreational drugs, namely alcohol, does significantly more damage to both mental and physical health than cannabis ever could.

Towns has said that he would be willing to discuss medical marijuana in the NBA with commissioner Silver, but if he’s not willing to admit that a box of celebratory pre-rolls in championship locker rooms would be healthier than the current buckets of champagne, beer, and cigars, than it’s unlikely any far-reaching changes will be made.

Commissioner Silver has said that he is open to looking at the science behind medical marijuana, but has also made up asinine excuses, including frequent player travel, to dismiss the idea of drug policy reform.

Follow Zach Harris on Twitter


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Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.



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