With New York A Step Closer To Legalizing Marijuana, Cannabis Movement In Sports May Gain Momentum

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With apologies to “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon — who is running against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic primary this fall — another state politician wants to take credit for leaning on Cuomo to legalize marijuana.

“There’s only one woman in this state who moved Cuomo and marijuana, and you’re looking at her,” New York State Senator Diane Savino told the Daily News at the recent Cannabis World Congress Expo at the Javits Center. “It’s not easy.”

Savino may finally see the fruits of her labor pay off, however, after Monday’s announcement by New York Department of Health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, who said that a report compiled by the agency “concludes the pros of a regulated (marijuana) program outweigh the cons.” Zucker said the report will be presented to Cuomo for review.

Savino sponsored the Compassionate Care Act, which established a “safe and regulated” medical marijuana program in New York, and Cuomo enacted the legislation in 2014. But Savino says more work in the cannabis movement needs to be done, and she’s continued to push the conversation forward, imploring her lawmaker peers in Congress to reschedule marijuana and urging Cuomo to accelerate legalization of marijuana in New York.

Savino, who represents the 23rd Senate District that includes parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, has also been a strong ally for sports figures like former Jets and Broncos defensive lineman Marvin Washington, advocating for cannabis as a safe alternative to opioids to treat chronic pain and other sports-related injuries.

“Senator Savino probably doesn’t get enough credit. She’s been pushing this issue since the beginning,” says Washington, the co-founder of IsoSport, which is part of parent company Isodiol, producers of hemp-based products that use cannabidiol (CBD), the non-intoxicating component of cannabis. “Cannabis can tackle the opioid crisis. Whenever cannabis is introduced to a community, opioid use goes down.”

Washington has for years voiced his belief that the NFL and the union need to embrace the cannabis movement and remove marijuana from the NFL’s banned substances list. Marijuana is considered a drug of abuse in the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the players and owners. An NFL spokesman told The News that Commissioner Roger Goodell’s stance on marijuana hasn’t changed — last year Goodell said “our medical community is evaluating” medical marijuana use to treat football-related injuries.

“I know it’s a priority for the union to establish a sensible cannabis program for its players before they negotiate a new CBA with owners,” Washington says. The league’s current CBA expires in 2021. “The union will argue two points — the benefits of cannabis use as a neuro-protectant, and its use as an alternative to opioids.”

Both Washington and Leonard Marshall, the ex-Giant defensive lineman who leveled 49ers quarterback Joe Montana in the 1991 NFC Championship game, are pitchmen for cannabis products that don’t contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component in cannabis that gets individuals high.

Marshall, 56, says his life has changed dramatically for the better after he began using Elixinol products, which use cannabidiol (CBD), the non-intoxicating element of cannabis.

“I still deal with my issues as it relates to (brain injury), and all the symptoms — headaches, short-term memory loss, mood swings, erratic behavior,” Marshall says. “Once I started using Elixinol products, I started seeing a change in the way I did things. I said to myself, ‘No way this could be as good as the way I feel right now. I feel like I could go back out there (on the field) now and do my thing.”

Marshall says he has urged former teammates and opponents who battle opioid addiction to switch to the safer, and less addictive CBD.

“It just so happens I (recently) saw two (former teammates), both dealing with the same disconnect,” says Marshall. “They said, ‘Man, you look great.’ I said, ‘You know why? I’m finding a way to deal with this crap that we’ve been delivered playing professional football.’”

If Cuomo enacts a law legalizing marijuana, Savino says several hurdles still remain — the need for more dispensaries so individuals can access the product, and establishing the appropriate tax policies for a legal, regulated marijuana program. Savino adds that after the Supreme Court earlier this year paved the way for legal sports betting in states, there shouldn’t be any hesitation by politicians to move on the cannabis issue.

“If we only decriminalize marijuana for personal use, we’re still buying it from criminals. We need to create a legal, regulated market. We need to establish a program that arrives at the right number of licenses so we don’t have too much product,” says Savino. “And we have to regulate it and tax it. We don’t need to derive a certain amount of money to depress use and raise revenue for healthcare initiatives because we don’t have the same effect on tobacco.

“We have to be thoughtful about it. We’re creating an industry that within four walls of our state is legal, but once you cross the border (into New York) is illegal,” Savino adds. “All these problems could be solved with a federal program — but I don’t hold out much hope for that.”