BROOMFIELD, COLORADO—My foursome and I were delightfully stoned and evaluating our approach shots at the Omni Interlocken Golf Club earlier this week when I recognized a familiar figure approaching on the cart path. His hulking frame barely fit into the cart, but his smile made it clear he was enjoying the picturesque afternoon during the second annual Laurel Rosebud Golf Invitational.
“How’re you hitting today, Eugene?” I shouted his way after my teammates had finished with their wedges.
“I’ve had a couple good hits today,” Eugene Monroe retorted, evoking a chorus of giggles among a crew that understood he wasn’t talking about hitting golf balls.
As an offensive tackle on the formidable Baltimore Ravens, Monroe was still pummeling the NFL’s top defenses when he made his first investment in a cannabis company. But perhaps his most prominent non-athletic claim to fame came in March of 2016 when he became the first active NFL player to advocate for the use of cannabis to treat sports-related injuries and chronic pain.
Since his first cannabis investment in 2015, Monroe has significantly expanded his financial interests in the space. He’s now part of several marijuana-related companies, ranging from dispensaries and cultivation facilities to weed-based technology brands.
While all of Monroe’s predecessors, including Ricky Williams, Jake Plummer and Nate Jackson, waited until they were retired before speaking out on behalf of the plant, Monroe called out the league for its drug testing policy when he was still playing. He was cut by the Ravens in June 2016, a few months after his first pro-pot interview. The team said the move had nothing to do with his advocacy, but Monroe wondered if it might have.
Now a year after Monroe’s official retirement from the NFL he is considered among the most impactful voices in the conversation surrounding medical cannabis and professional sports. He’s a board member on the NFL Players Association Pain Management Committee and also the athletic ambassador for Doctors for Cannabis Regulation.
And that explains why Monroe was roaming the links as a guest of honor at the Denver-adjacent golf tournament earlier this week. The event, organized by the pro-drug reform Laurel Rosebud Fund, benefited Doctors for Cannabis Regulation and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
And about 24 hours after our run-in on the golf course, Monroe was sitting across from me in my content agency’s Denver offices discussing his ongoing advocacy work and his multiplying investments in the legal cannabis space.
“I got involved with this company while I was still in the NFL,” Monroe said, referencing Green Thumb Industries, a group currently selling or growing marijuana in five states. “They were looking to start operations in Maryland, and I was looking to invest in the industry at that time.
“I saw an investment in marijuana as an opportunity to bring access to something that would be life-changing for people. At that time, I was reading a lot about it and researching the plant. The funny thing is: I didn’t know how life changing this all would be for me. And it really has been.”
It’s important to note here that Monroe was no ordinary athlete, especially since offensive linemen rarely have their names spelled out in headlines. In high school Monroe was ranked third nationwide and graduated in the Top 10 of his class. He was a unanimous All-ACC player at the University of Virginia, and he was drafted eighth overall in the first round of the 2009 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, who later traded him to the Super Bowl champion Ravens in 2013.
When Monroe was cut by Baltimore in 2016, he was set to make $6.5 million that season.
“I never won the championship in the NFL, the Super Bowl, but I almost felt like I did when we won that license in Pennsylvania,” said Monroe, referencing the medical marijuana dispensary GTI has been permitted to open in Erie County, Pennsylvania. “I don’t know how the feeling could be any different than winning a very competitive license to grow cannabis, especially when you understand the amount of effort that goes into that process.”
GTI currently operates Rise, a dispensary in Carson City, Nevada - and another Rise will soon open in Silver Spring, Md., only a half hour’s drive from the new Columbia, Md., house Monroe, his wife and three kids will soon move into. Medically legal Silver Spring also shares a border with recreationally legal Washington D.C., though D.C. dispensaries only offer medical sales as the district’s adult-use regulations don’t include the sale of retail cannabis.
GTI is also involved in a high-profile lawsuit after suing the state of Maryland when its top-ranked application to grow cannabis in the state was bumped to achieve geographic diversity.
“The lawsuit is ongoing,” Monroe told me, “but we continue to move forward.”
Monroe is also involved in a few other cannabis ventures, including his investments in desktop vaporizer outfit Vapexhale and online marijuana education platform Green Flower Media.
“If somebody’s made a (vaporizer) device, I’ve probably tried it because I’m always looking for an experience that will be effective, that’s easy to use and that I can titrate the need for using cannabis because I don’t want to overuse it - and the Vapexhale was the product I was looking for all along,” Monroe said. “Furthermore I’m a nerd and I’m into technology, and cannabis technology is cool.
“We’re in the stone ages of cannabis technology. And what the Vapexhale looks like today will be a far cry from what it looks like 10 years from now.”
As for Green Flower Media, Monroe remembers doing some research online “and they happened to have a video for exactly what I was looking for…It’s all educational content, and they do some really great classes.”
Monroe has some non-cannabis investments, too, including a real estate project that is helping to revitalize a South Baltimore neighborhood right behind M&T Bank Stadium, home to his former teammates still with the Ravens.
When asked about the differences between investing in a real estate project and investing in a plant-touching cannabis business, Monroe took a brief moment to gather his thoughts.
“You have to do your due diligence more with cannabis businesses,” he said. “Otherwise it’s no different than any other business in my eyes, but there are some issues in cannabis that are very specific to cannabis businesses.
“People think it’s all glitz and glamor, but they’re not thinking about (IRS tax section) 280E or any of the other stuff. It definitely complicates things when you’re working directly with the plant.”