This story was reprinted with permission from Crain’s Chicago and written by John Pletz.
Jim McMahon, a longtime medicinal marijuana advocate, is looking to break into the Illinois cannabis market.
The legendary former Chicago Bears quarterback is a co-founder of marijuana brand Revenant, which launched in California last summer and expanded into Arizona last week.
“We’re looking forward to coming to Illinois,” McMahon, who is in Chicago for a wedding, said in an interview. “We’re in negotiations with different people,” though he declined to name any potential partners. “We want to be nationwide as soon as we can.”
He started using marijuana in the early ’70s. Still, He came to rely on it much later in life to help deal with chronic pain from the many injuries suffered during his playing career, which included a fractured neck that he wasn’t even aware of until years later. He says marijuana provided him an alternative to prescription painkillers more than a decade ago.
“It’s so much better for you, and you don’t have the side effects that you have with opioids,” said the 63-year-old, who led the Bears to their last Super Bowl title in 1986 and retired from the NFL a decade later.
McMahon is one of many athletes and celebrities who have launched marijuana brands, including former NBA players Al Harrington and Allen Iverson, NFL stars Calvin Johnson and Ricky Williams, actor Jim Belushi and rapper Snoop Dogg.
So far, only one celebrity-backed brand, actor Seth Rogen’s Houseplant, was among the Top 100 sellers in the California market last year, according to research firm Headset. Revenant’s retail sales in California topped $1 million during the past 12 months, Headset says.
“We already have more celebrity brands than the industry can support,” says Annie Davis, CEO of Growing Impact, a cannabis strategy-consulting firm in Sonoma County, Calif. “You have to have a ground game. They have to understand how to leverage the existing cannabis industry ecosystem, and they have to invest and spend at the retail level.”
She says athletes like McMahon and his partners have an advantage because of tight restrictions around marketing marijuana products. They also help the industry grow by reducing the stigma associated with cannabis. “The biggest benefit is when they bring their followers and fans into the category,” she says.
That’s McMahon’s role. “I’m a brand ambassador,” says McMahon, who readily acknowledges he has as little patience for corporate meetings as he did for rules. “I go to the openings. I go to cannabis conferences and stuff like that. It’s a great business to be in right now.”
He tried to get into the industry on his own in 2010 when he moved to Arizona, which had just legalized medical marijuana. He rented a building, but the industry rollout was delayed two years by lawsuits, and he abandoned the idea until former NFL players Kyle Turley and Eben Britton approached him a few years ago.
“There’s a lot of shady people in the business, like every business,” McMahon says. “I trust former ballplayers. . . .Kyle’s been in it quite awhile.”
Turley, like McMahon, says marijuana allowed him to end an opioid addiction.
“Our company was established to provide premium-quality cannabis with compassion and convenience,” Revenant says in a statement. “Our mission is to provide an alternative, natural way of healing without using industrialized pharmaceuticals.”
Their company is named after the Leonardo DiCaprio movie about a man who was mauled by a bear but survived.
“This plant has saved our lives. There’s that dream sequence, and you see the (Native American) giving him something. We believe that was cannabis, and that’s why he healed himself. It brought him back from the dead. That’s basically what this plant has done for me and my partners, as well.”