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It only took two minutes last week for one-time baseball great Darryl Strawberry to make it clear he doesn’t know the difference between medical cannabis prescribed by a doctor to an adult suffering chronic pain and a ninth grader smoking dope.
In an apparently impromptu interview, Strawberry condemned cannabis (which like most people in America he calls marijuana) as a “gateway drug” that “destroys lives.”
"Most people don’t understand marijuana is a drug," Strawberry told TMZ Sports when asked if retired athletes should have access to cannabis as an alternative to opioid painkillers. "It’s just the beginning. Starting people off when they’re young and then it leads to everything else."
Strawberry’s non sequitur answer frustrated and angered many retired athletes who favor legal cannabis.
“Many across the country are unfamiliar with the medicinal properties of the cannabis plant and Mr. Strawberry is no exception,” said Anna Valent, executive director of Athletes For Care, seeming to give Strawberry the benefit of the doubt. “At Athletes for CARE, one of our goals is to help everyone understand the scientifically proven benefits of medicinal cannabis as a treatment. We invite Mr. Strawberry to join our organization because, even beyond cannabis, his experiences through the years are extremely relevant to this conversation.”
A ruder rebuttal came from former NBA player and marijuana advocate Stephen Jackson who called Strawberry “a whole coke head,” though he graciously apologized within a day. Strawberry, while famously addicted to cocaine during his baseball career, is now an ordained minister and anti-drug advocate. In the TMZ interview Strawberry’s strongest condemnation was for opioids “which are killing all the young people today.”
Riley Cote, a retired professional hockey player active with Athletes for CARE. was more frustrated than angry with Strawberry’s comments. "The comment Mr. Strawberry made about cannabis ‘destroying lives’ is a true indicator of how much work we have left to do,” Cote said. “The comment is not only ignorant, but is dangerous to public health. It only adds to the overall confusion and misunderstanding surrounding this extraordinary plant that has unlimited healing potential.”
Polls show about two-thirds of Americans support legalizing medicinal marijuana. Listening to Strawberry gives some insight into how much educating will be required to convince the other third. Strawberry was characterized as a hypocrite for condemning cannabis when it was he who was an addict, but it’s his lifelong drug use that makes Strawberry an opponent of any marijuana legalization. When he was asked specifically if he thought retired athletes should have access to cannabis he replied:
“Most young people start off with marijuana … it’s a gateway. I started with marijuana when I was young — 14, 15 years old — and it led me to everything else.”
That would have been a good answer if he’d been asked his opinion on giving children blunts at recess but it only revealed that Strawberry hasn’t heard about the mounting evidence that where cannabis is legal, opioid prescriptions, addictions and overdose go down.
Strawberry no doubt sincerely believes smoking marijuana as a teenager primed him for cocaine in adulthood, but science is skeptical. Running with a bad crowd as a kid has more to do with later drug problems than marijuana in particular, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which found “An alternative to the gateway-drug hypothesis is that people who are more vulnerable to drug-taking are simply more likely to start with readily available substances such as marijuana, tobacco, or alcohol, and their subsequent social interactions with others who use drugs increases their chances of trying other drugs.”
Strawberry is well known for his addiction during his baseball career but less well known is his anti-addiction ministry. He, like many people who shed addiction by going cold turkey and embracing religion, rejects an substance use. Strawberry concluded his TMZ Sports interview by reiterating his opposition to medical cannabis but even more strongly rejecting prescription painkillers — which would leave a person suffering chronic pain no medication at all.
“There’s no such thing as pain management as far as prescription drugs go because they’ve gotten totally out of control and the pharmaceutical companies have gotten rich, millions of dollars and people are losing their lives,” he said.
Nate Jackson, another retired hockey player active with Athletes for CARE, invited Strawberry to talk it over.
“We definitely have different views on cannabis than Daryl Strawberry, but would welcome the chance to listen to his ideas," Jackson said. "The more voices, the better. We can all learn from each other to improve our quality of life. And as athletes, it is important that we stick together.”
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