Four former NFL linebackers, including an LSU star and two former Saints players, are among the more than 100 people who have invested nearly $10 million collectively in the company hired by LSU to grow medical marijuana.
Bradie James, who played linebacker for LSU and the Dallas Cowboys, former New Orleans Saints David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton and former Arizona Cardinal Daryl Washington all have put up money for a stake in Wellcana Group LLC.
“This is the buzz among all of us retired players,” Hawthorne said of the medical marijuana industry and its potential as an alternative to traditional drugs used to treat injuries. “We aren’t playing football anymore, and we aren’t preparing for a football game anymore, so we don’t need a quick fix. We need a solution that will last our whole lives,” he said.
The Wellcana Group over the past year has amassed a 48.6 percent stake in GB Sciences Louisiana, the firm picked by LSU to run a unique medical marijuana growing endeavor with a major university.
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Documents released in the past week by LSU and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, which regulates the growing operations, show the former NFL athletes are among an array of investors who have collectively put up the $9.7 million in capital over the past year for the endeavor. GB Sciences Louisiana has used the money to build out its facilities in south Baton Rouge and to pay for operating costs, according to filings by the publicly traded company with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The rest of the more than 100 investors in the Louisiana-based Wellcana Group are invested as individuals or through companies they are part of. The investors include an array of business people, lawyers, doctors and other people who put up money for a slice of the business. A relatively large share of them are based in Lafayette, records show, and GB Sciences Louisiana President John Davis said most have “personal and professional connections to Louisiana.”
Charlie Hohorst, founder of Cajungrocer.com, and lawyer Charles Rush are managing the Wellcana Group. Davis said the two are based in Lafayette, which is why many of the investors they assembled are from the region. The investors include people based in Texas, Colorado, Arizona and across Louisiana.
Hawthorne, who played for the Saints from 2012 to 2015, said he came across the opportunity through a lawyer involved in the deal. Hawthorne presented it to his investment group in Texas, where he currently lives. He then reached out to James and the other former players, who decided to sign on as investors as well.
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Hawthorne said he thinks the NFL should look at medical marijuana as a viable alternative to traditional drugs used to treat injuries, including opioid painkillers. Marijuana has long been banned by the NFL.
Retired players don’t want to fall back into the routine of using traditional painkillers and other drugs to treat lingering injuries, he said, which is why many are taking an interest in medical marijuana.
An NFL spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Eugene Monroe, a former Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle who has become an outspoken advocate for medical marijuana, was one of the original investors in Advanced Biomedics. That company, which was based in Lafayette before being acquired last year by a division of a Pennsylvania firm, won the other highly-coveted license to grow medical marijuana in the state after Southern University selected it.
Louisiana law only allows two marijuana growers, and the companies were selected by LSU and Southern University. Officials have touted the research opportunities the partnerships will bring.
Monroe said while he couldn’t speak on behalf of the players involved with GB Sciences, cannabis is becoming more mainstream as an investment opportunity and a medical option not only for NFL players but for a wide range of people.
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Marijuana is coming in increasingly new formulations that can be well-suited to athletes, said Monroe, who retired in 2016 after becoming the first active player to openly advocate for medical marijuana. He has since called on the NFL to change its policies to allow use of the drug, fund research about it and stop “overprescribing” opioid painkillers.
Monroe also is invested in Chicago-based GTI, a marijuana firm with operations in several states.
Hawthorne also said he has another investment in a Maryland marijuana dispensary, and hopes to keep investing in the sector.
“NFL athletes are well-versed in educating themselves,” Monroe said. “This isn’t a secret anymore. This isn’t causing harm in people’s lives.”
GB Sciences Louisiana is majority owned by GB Sciences, a Las Vegas penny stock company, while Wellcana Group owns the remaining 48.6 percent.
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Investors across the country in recent years have flocked to the fast-growing marijuana industry, which has attracted billions of dollars in capital as a host of U.S. states move to legalize the drug for medical or recreational use. One market research firm estimates the North American legal cannabis market will attract $16 billion in 2019.
Louisiana’s industry represents only a small fraction of that. But investors here, including those opening marijuana patient clinics and nine state-approved pharmacies, hope getting in on the ground floor will pay off eventually as laws and regulations are loosened and the sector grows. Lawmakers last year loosened some restrictions on the program, passing a law that allows people with intractable pain and several other conditions to qualify for the drug.
The product in Louisiana will only be available in certain nonsmokable forms, which initially will be in liquid tincture form mixed with coconut oil.
The state’s program was legalized nearly four years ago, but repeated delays have kept product from reaching the market. GB Sciences has blamed the agriculture department for regulatory delays, and the agency has in turn said GB Sciences has not followed all the steps needed to win its approval. The two sides sent opposing letters in the past week about the issue, the latest in an ongoing disagreement.
Southern University’s partner, now owned by Ilera Holistic Healthcare, is lagging behind LSU’s program.