Chris Webber on how the war on drugs led him to create a new $50M cannabis facility in Detroit


While the NBA world celebrated Chris Webber’s past as he made his entry into the Basketball Hall of Fame earlier in September, the five-time All-Star couldn’t help but think of his future. Webber’s thoughts kept drifting to his newest and most ambitious project yet, right until it was time to give his speech.

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The project — a $50 million cannabis operations and training facility in Detroit called Players Only — is set to break ground Tuesday.

“I was looking at all the guys and just thinking, ‘This is such an exciting moment, and this is the beginning,'” the five-time All-Star told CBS Sports. “I kept looking at the Hall of Fame like this is the beginning, and this is only the first step of the beginning.”

Webber, 48, didn’t rush into his new beginning. Earlier this year, Webber co-founded a $100 million private equity cannabis fund to invest in companies from underserved communities and helped establish Cookies Campus, a 2.5-month, expenses-paid cannabis training program in California. 

Now, thanks to Players Only, Cookies Campus is coming to Webber’s hometown of Detroit. 

“To be able to bring this to Detroit is the most special thing because I waited,” said Webber, who consulted Pistons legend turned publicly-traded cannabis producer CEO Isiah Thomas before the move. “I waited till I really learned the industry; we’ve been in here a while. I waited to try and see what the right landscape was, and all of that studying and preparation and patience really makes me feel like I just can’t wait to hit this here, and the people are going to make it a home run.

“I’m just happy to be bringing this Cookies U to Detroit so that our community doesn’t get left behind.”

And Webber has a point, because the cannabis industry has long left minorities behind. A 2017 study found that 81% of marijuana business owners and founders were white, compared to 5.7% Hispanic/Latino, 4.3% African-American and 2.4% Asian. The “other” category accounted for 6.7% of the respondents. 

Webber described those above statistics as “crazy” and is hoping Players Only, along with his other cannabis ventures, will foster “fair” representation within the industry. 

“When you look at the history of America and some other things, it’s been tough for people of color,” Webber, who played 17 NBA seasons, said. “But at the same time, the great thing about this place is that I have partners that are diverse and understand the issues, and we’re going to make a change. I’m definitely going to make sure that we help black and brown people, women, and we help veterans. 

“But at the same time, I’m working with white men, veterans, black and brown people, women. So, hopefully what I’m going to show is through friendships, through business partnerships here in Detroit — long ones, over 30 years, guys that I call my best friends today — that we can show the diversity of Detroit and we can show that it takes diversity to help [provide] access for those that have a lack of access.”

Webber was born in 1973, aligning his childhood with President Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs — which Webber refers to as the “fake drug war.” The former president introduced his anti-drug strategy in 1984 and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in ’86, causing drug-related arrests to skyrocket: such arrests rose from 708,400 in 1984 to 1.361 million in ’89. 

Throughout his upbringing in Detroit, Webber said he saw families disrupted by the war on drugs. Fathers were separated from sons. Mothers were separated from daughters. It’s a cycle Webber’s mother tried to end by teaching for 20 years in the city and not a day in the suburbs.

Webber is now following in her footsteps. 

“I want to be a part of that healing process,” Webber said. “I do want to take bullets for the people that have been out here and no one speaks for them. And yeah, that’s what I want to do, and so that’s why I put the pressure on myself to make sure I have wonderful partners and partners that are aligned that it’s about profitability and it’s about people. We felt the impact of terrible narratives, and so what I hope is at the end of [Players Only] Detroiters will be better for it.

“Detroiters will have jobs, they’ll be trained, and the vestiges of these terrible laws will be erased because the families that were stigmatized, that were hurt, that were separated by these laws, can now benefit from them. And they won’t have to move from their neighborhoods … we’re going to make sure that Detroit has access to the profitability that is there in the cannabis industry.”

Webber’s mission to help underserved communities and provide jobs won’t give pause to most. He’s cognizant, however, that doing so through the cannabis industry might. Nearly a third of the U.S. population opposes Marijuana legalization and 21.8% of Michiganders believe smoking it presents a “great risk of personal harm.”

Still, Webber is undeterred in his vision for Players Only. The former Fab Five member and consensus All-American at the University of Michigan said he and his business partners will be the “leaders of cannabis in Michigan.” He also said he will not “apologize for that.” 

“If I was going to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to open up my basement and sell turkey legs. I’m a pretty good chef.’ People wouldn’t complain; they’d probably come by,” Webber said. “Something as audacious as this should have skeptics. But my thing is we plan on hiring hundreds of people. We plan on placing hundreds of people in jobs. We plan on training hundreds of people, and right now in the city — most cities, but especially in the city of Detroit — there’s so many black and brown people that have (growing) licenses that the city has put on hold with [recreational] and their social-equity programs.

“And while I love the city of Detroit, they’re really behind on this. So, we’re going to train. We’re going to do what the city should’ve done. We’re going to train Detroiters — until [the city] get their stuff together — we’re going to train Detroiters to get ready for cannabis, and all Michiganders. I’m happy we’re the stopgap. We’re filling in the gap where local municipalities left us hanging, as usual.”

While the launch of Players Only has been in the front of Webber’s mind, his induction into Basketball Hall of Fame still hasn’t sunk in yet. Webber says he’s “still trying to grapple with such a blessing.” 

“You have those little quiet moments where you’re like, ‘Wow, I made it. I can’t believe it.'” Webber said. “It’s the best feeling in the world.” 

Players Only breaking ground in Detroit on Monday will give Webber another “I can’t believe it” moment, and it’s one that his business partners and others in the city can share in.





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