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Happy the Tide Has Turned on Cannabis Legalization? Thank an Athlete.

Our sports stars have helped destigmatize marijuana, hemp, and CBD by giving them a human and charismatic face.

4/20 is one of those officially unofficial holidays. It’s not recognized by any government — ball’s in your court, Canada — nor does it have the special status of the opening Thursday of March Madness on which nosedives in workplace productivity are either solemnly accepted or gleefully embraced. Like so many legit holidays, however, it is based on a myth whose factual basis will never truly be verified to the letter.

But 50 years after the term enjoyed its first recorded use in the cannabis context, we more to be thankful for than ever on this latest edition of the High Hazy Day. The world isn’t just changing; it’s changed.

According to a recent Pew survey, only 8% of US adults believe that marijuana should be fully illegal regardless of use. A healthy 60% support legalizing both medical and recreational buds.

Including a majority of Republicans under the age of 65.

Yep, weed’s taboo days are over.

And if you’re looking for someone to thank for this as you celebrate another 4/20, take your pick from a long, long list of superstar athletes.

The physical, mental, and emotional toll of the sporting life is real, and as individual states have steadily decriminalized and legalized cannabis, hemp, and its related products — almost half the US population can access them legally now — the body of research pointing to cannabinoids’ massive therapeutic potential gradually grew too apparent for athletes of all stripes to ignore.

From tough-as-nails football players like Marshawn Lynch and Rob Gronkowski to fearless MMA fighters like Nick and Nate Diaz, the choice between cannabis-powered pain and inflammation relief versus addictive opioid medications was an easy one. For NBA players like Chris Webber, Carmelo Anthony, and Stephen Jackson, the benefits of relieving anxiety and mental stress with cannabinoids rather than turning to alcohol were obvious.

By putting charismatic human faces on what was so long dismissed by the establishment as some kind of smokable boogeyman, athletes like these helped to bring marijuana out of the shadows and kill off misinformation about “gateway drugs” toke by toke.

And by the time legalization enabled what has now become an absolutely booming retail marijuana industry, the dollar signs are gigantic enough to convert even the stubbornest spliff skeptic.

Putting it another way: When boomers like Joe Montana and elder Gen X-ers like Mark Messier are getting into the ganja game, you’re allowed to pause your Friday/Half Baked double-feature, stick your head out the dormitory window, and shout out loud that the so-called wacky tobaccy has gone mainstream.

An ever-subsiding stigma and all the revenue streams that come with it don’t mean there aren’t still legal and ethical issues related to cannabis that need resolution, however.

While cannabis investors make billions on retail, research, and technology, our criminal justice system is still overfilled with nonviolent offenders who ran afoul of generally racist marijuana laws based on inane slogans like “zero tolerance” and “three strikes.” Cannabis is still an illegal Schedule I controlled substance at the federal level. Numerous sports leagues, and workplaces in general, continue to enforce consequences for positive marijuana tests.

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But compared to where we were even 10 short years ago, the very concept of 4/20 has evolved from something talked about in cautious, giggling whispers to a symbol of wellness and empowerment.

And given our favorite athletes’ relentless ability to do what we’d otherwise be convinced is impossible, don’t be shocked if this decade includes a 4/20 celebration that’s legal in all 50 states.