Honeysuckle had an opportunity to mix and mingle with the revelers at Revel, a cannabis entrepreneurial showcase, and capture a candid conversation with Atiim Kiambu “Tiki” Barber, one of that evening’s Cannabis + Capital keynotes. Barber is a man who isn’t easily defined. He’s a highly acclaimed former running back for the New York Giants, co-host of CBS Sports Radio’s nationally broadcast afternoon show, Tiki & Tierney, author of several children’s books, the first NFL player to star in a Broadway musical, and most recently the Chief Business Development Officer & Co-Founder of Grove Group Management.
Grove is a next-generation investment and management company identifying and launching enterprises in the rapidly rising cannabis industry. The Grove team works to deliver superior returns to their investors by providing capital and proven business expertise to high-growth companies across the globe. They add value by identifying synergies, increasing distribution channels, and creating scale. Barber is actively striving to instill hope and encourage success within our communities through his work with Grove and has big long-term plans. While Cannabis is still a taboo subject in professional sports, Barber says that the stigma surrounding the subject is fading; making way for new business opportunities.
But Barber is not just following the money. He wants to instigate change in society. The campaign to legalize cannabis is an issue concerning our economy, mental and physical health and countless other aspects of our day-to-day lives. The prevalence of cannabis is widely recognized today, but its use is still subject to criminalization especially with African-Americans. Barber is highly aware of the impact this has not only in the sports industry, but in the lives of those close to him.
“I don’t want to say we’re out legislating to change laws, but we realize that there are a lot of minorities and minority communities who have been unjustly vilified for simple marijuana possession,” says Barber. “Part of what we want to do is obviously fill businesses, but we want to have a social impact as well.”
Barber, as an athlete, shied away from substances thinking they would be detrimental. But over the years he has seen the other side of substances, how legal medications used to counter performance pain and injuries can destroy athletes, yet they are persecuted for using natural alternatives. “It was a wake-up call to the damage that medicine can do to your body. I also know that there are a bunch of guys who have gotten suspended for four games, eight games, or even full seasons because they have realized that danger and chose to medicate themselves differently,” says Barber. “Some of the guys had issues, whether it was psychological or physical that drew them back to marijuana. They know that in some cases cannabis can slow down the damage that occurs on the field. To ignore that is a fallacy on the part of leagues that vilifies those who smoke marijuana.”
This vilification of marijuana in the sports industry is parallel to the criminalization of African-Americans. “I think it’s fear. You see someone smoking a joint and you may think there’s something much larger going on,” says Barber. “In actuality, if you went into many of the homes, affluent or not, in that same community you would see the same thing going on.” He sees things slowly changing. “The amount of money that is wasted on those misdemeanor prosecutions and the tax on our jails is astronomical. At some point that changes, things shift, and it gets people to wise up.”
Barber sees how cannabis can be safer for recreational use than other substances; how it can be a calming come-down from the ramped-up rat race. “A perfect example would be after a football game. You’re so physically charged up and emotionally charged up. After three hours of beating on somebody, winning or losing, or whatever you’re still getting to that top. The way that people would come down is to have a drink, or ten, and you’re putting depressants in your body that are ultimately destroying your body,” says Barber. “Each of our chemistries are different but there is science behind finding the right Cannabidiol (CBD)… combination for marijuana that can bring you to the right level of homeostasis without having to go get hammered. It’s not talked about enough, and it’s not just for athletes. You close a big business deal, you have a good day at the office, or a bad day at the office, the same type of iterations happen.”
Barber also highlights the medical implications of cannabis use. “With epilepsy,” says Barber, “multiple studies have proven cannabis’ effectiveness treating. Recently a Cannabidiol (CBD) based drug was approved for people suffering from Epilepsy. It’s coming slowly. That’s why this space is so fun. That’s why you see private equity and institutional money coming into this space. The opportunity is real and will be apparent sooner rather than later.”
As a parent, Barber brings a perspective informed by that experience to his business. “I have six kids: two teenagers, eight-year-old twins, and two toddlers. It’s really something I’m starting to address with my 16-year-old. It’s the same conversation we had about alcohol and the illegality of it for minors,” says Barber. “Educating them and making them aware of the dangers of it at a young age is how you best address it.”
Barber is undeterred by projections of difficulties that African-Americans have in making their way in business and society. “I think part of that is also an internal stereotype. Some African-Americans or other minority communities just believe that they can’t come out of it,” says Barber. “Hope is an invisible bridge. The only way to fully make it visible is to believe in yourself, and then your path becomes very clear. It’s hard to do sometimes; when you have been knocked down so many times and told that you can’t, you can’t, you can’t. It’s a cliché, but it’s also real to life.”
Barber wants to be living proof of this assertion. “I think one of the important things for guys like me who has been an athlete and an entrepreneur, or even a guy who is a banker and is also a minority, is to give young minority kids a vision of what they can be other than an athlete or entertainment,” says Barber. “There is a whole other existence that I think minority communities are missing sometimes, because there’s a collectivism and it hasn’t been taught yet. I think it can be though.”
There is a golden opportunity to get that accomplished with Grove. “Right now we’re growing our funds. We have two funds; our Cannabis Fund and an Opportunity Fund, and in short our Cannabis Fund touches the plant and the Opportunity Fund does not. That covers the technology, deliverables, and everything else around the cannabis space. We’ve touched into a little niche that’s really neat because of our collective connections.”
Grove is looking into investments in California and the blossoming market in New Jersey and New York. Barber is excited because there is so much to learn and so much potential for growth. “We did an event in California with a group named ‘Green Table,” says Barber. “Seeing the interest, the learning, and teaching was amazing. People would walk in and wouldn’t really know what they were doing. No one was an expert on all things cannabis. There’s a learning process that is occurring right now across this country… We have opportunities everywhere.”