Last month, former NBA commissioner David Stern said he believed that as more states legalized both the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana, the NBA and other professional sports leagues should remove it from their banned substances list. Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns has also become a supporter of the medicinal benefits of marijuana, not for himself, but for someone close to him, as he explained in a recent sit-down interview with ESPN.com.
If you’re commissioner Adam Silver and could make one change to the rules in the NBA, what would it be?
I agree with David Stern with marijuana. You don’t have to actually make it “Mary J” [or] “Half Baked.” You don’t have to do it like that, but you could use the [chemical] properties in it to make a lot of people better. That’s something that Adam Silver has to do. That’s out of my control, but maybe legalizing marijuana. Not fully legal where people are chimneys but using [marijuana] as a beneficial factor as an athlete, as a person living daily. I think a lot of times fans forget that sometimes there may be some things that are banned that may not be the greatest for playing basketball, but for everyday living off the court, sometimes those things that are legal could help us.
Is the legalization of marijuana discussed among players?
Yeah, I think it’s discussed. But I look at it from my experience with it. I’ve never smoked, I’ve never taken a strand, I’ve never taken properties of it, whatever the case may be. But I deal with kids all the time at autistic schools, Reed Academy in New Jersey. My girlfriend has an autistic nephew, and you realize those properties of marijuana can do a lot of good for kids and for adults. These guys, just because we’re NBA athletes, we’re not super humans. Some of us have conditions that could use [medicinal marijuana] to our benefit for everyday living, just taking care of our kids and our families.
Are you hoping by saying what you said that it sparks more conversation throughout the league about this issue?
If I wasn’t playing basketball, I wanted to be in the medical field. My mother’s in the medical field. I went to school to be a kinesiologist at Kentucky, which is the study of the kinetic movement of the body. So if I have patients, my job is to take care of people. The reason I brought that up is because there’s a lot of research that shows medical marijuana has benefits to help autistic children live their lives easier. Not smoking, but the properties of [marijuana] make his life so much easier, and he now feels like a regular kid.
How much research have you been able to do about this topic?
I’ve done a little bit just because anything medical always intrigues me, just to see how the world is getting smarter about treating our bodies. There’s a lot of other conditions and diseases that can be helped by using those properties that are in medical marijuana to benefit people’s lives. I was talking to my mother yesterday about seeing studies about abnormalities in people’s bodies and doing surgeries to fix that, fix those conditions. My mom’s been working at Rutgers University medicine for 20-plus years. I love learning about different ways to take care of my body, so I’m always looking for ways that could help me be a better athlete and a better player. And make things just move smoother.
How much work have you done over the years with helping kids with autism?
I felt very passionate about it at an early age. I was fortunate to work with a lot of autistic kids and feel for them. I thank God every day that I was blessed with — I think everyone has a truly special gift, I think God has really gifted me with patience. I think, one, it’s helped me tremendously relate with people and understand where they’re coming from and really be patient, especially with autistic kids. Helping them step by step do little things and really have that love for them. Sometimes I think people get missed because they’re looked at as abnormal when they’re really not.
I’m very blessed to be in a position where I had two loving parents who gave me such an open mind. Really never told me how to think, let me come up with my conclusions, steer me in the right direction. Let me develop what I believe and just enhance it by giving me so much love, no restrictions. I always felt you do what’s right. Even today, I do what I feel is right. … I’m very honest, when I talk to the media I say how I feel. I obviously never want to lie … that’s why I brought [the marijuana issue] up. From my own personal experience with my girlfriend and her nephew, I’ve seen nothing but benefits for him. And I’m very happy that he finds comfort. He finds that normalcy every day. Just like a father, a mother, a parent with a child, you’d do anything for your child.
“Just because we’re NBA athletes, we’re not super humans. Some of us have conditions that could use [medical marijuana] to our benefit for everyday living, just taking care of our kids and our families.”
You mentioned earlier that this topic is discussed among players. Do you think medicinal marijuana use is something a lot of players are in favor of?
I think in the right context it would be beneficial. Obviously, everything in moderation. We don’t have a Tylenol bottle and take six of them. You take what’s directed to help you feel better. We have an amazing drug program for our questions, and we have great backing by the association who does so much research, and they do so much great work with that. Whether it’s not legal, whether it’s legal, they always do a great job of making sure that they give the players every chance to be healthy.
Have you talked to anyone within the league — would you talk to Adam Silver about this?
We have such a great commissioner in Adam Silver who’s willing to listen to opinions and talk to us about how he feels as well. I think David Stern obviously made an intellectual statement from his experience and just seeing things from a different perspective.
The NBA has done a great job of just really cracking down on things that should not be legal. Not only legal as a performance enhancing, or whatever case it may be, but just for daily living to have a better life, a more sustainable life, a more healthy life by removing those drugs from the game.
Are stereotypes about marijuana changing?
I think it’s about keeping an open mind. You have to understand what the use is for. Obviously recreational use, that’s something more of a personal hobby. But legalization of medical marijuana has helped millions of people’s lives. I know people who have had very bad arthritis and feel much better about daily movement, be able to be with their grandchildren to a better extent.
There’s a difference between recreational and medicinal. A Vicodin or Percocet is very, very addicting. And it’s a drug, but used in the right context it can truly help people who are in a tremendous amount of pain. With the right moderation and reasoning for it, it’s very beneficial.
And again, you’re coming at this as a guy who has never smoked.
No, I’ve never smoked or drank a day in my life. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. All my friends don’t drink or smoke. I’ve always believed the people you keep around you [represent] who you’ll become. I have no animosity or ill will or any belittlement to anyone who smokes or drinks. Everyone has their own hobbies and what they like to do and who they are. So I just personally have never done anything like that. I was just raised a little different like that. I never had anyone [around me] who wanted to do it … I’m a strong believer, I have a strong mind. So if I don’t want to do it no one can peer pressure me into doing it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.