A Denver, Colorado, company is claiming victory as the first cannabis-related company to be a sponsor in a major sporting event. But if you watched the Go Bowling 400 NASCAR race on TV this weekend, you wouldn't know it.
That blank race car hood in the photo above? That's what went around the track on the number 66 car — a portrait of missed opportunity, a blown chance to give cannabis a fraction of the respect it deserves. It shows a deal that fell apart at the last second, like a Chevy Malibu slamming into the wall — and evidence that cannabis is still looking for a visible place in major sports.
Here's what happened, and why it matters:
Last week, stock car driver Carl Long agreed to be sponsored by Denver company Veedverks, which sells CBD vape cartridges. CBD comes from the cannabis sativa plant but it doesn't get you lifted, and it's (questionably) legal in all 50 states.
Long told NASCAR that Veedverks is a vape company. By vape, NASCAR thought he meant e-cigarettes. So they approved the deal.
Veedverks plastered its logo on the hood. Like this:
Veedverks was stoked to be making history. Emalee Hyde, PR director of Veedverks, was sending out congratulatory emails and posing for pictures with Long. Like this:
[Photos courtesy of Veedverks.]
Then, during practice laps at Kansas Motor Speedway Friday, NASCAR spotted the logo. It was then that they realized that Veedverks isn't a nicotine vape company.
NASCAR got paranoid and forced Long to strip Veedverks off the hood, like a mom forcing her kid to strip off his Cypress Hill sweater when grandma comes over. Long drove the race with an oddly blank green hood.
"It was shocking," said Hyde in an email. "We had just praised NASCAR in a press release for being a leader."
Hyde feels that, even though the logo didn't make it onto national television, her company still broke ground.
"At the end of the day, no one can ever change we were the primary sponsor of the first ever major league sporting team," Hyde emailed, since no one else stepped in and sponsored Long, and they paid him the money and don't want it back.
So … history? Or not?
Either way, cannabis lovers felt dissed.
And rightly so. Sports are drenched in ads: on jerseys, stadiums, commercials and occasionally bodies. Ads for all kinds of things: erectile dysfunction pills, beer, fatty fast food, gas-guzzling cars, nicotine and everything else America loves.
So you might think sports should want a few of the billions of cannabis dollars. But sports is like your unemployed uncle: stuck in 1983. For them, "cannabis" just sounds icky or illegal or wrong, in way that practically nothing else does.
"You can buy hemp products in Walmart's and Whole Foods," Hyde said, seemingly exasperated. "We should not be shunned away from the mainstream advertising and sponsorship opportunities afforded to pharmaceuticals, alcohol and tobacco companies."
Yes, still, even though cannabis is legal in 26 states, no major sport will affiliate with it.
Though quiet as it's kept, cannabis is stealthily creeping into sports sponsorships. Tanner Hall, a seven-time XGames gold medalist in skiing, is sponsored by Black Rock Originals, maker of stash boxes. (Hall says he was on the chron when he won the medals.) Backcountry skier John Spriggs was sponsored by cannabis company Oregrown. Ultra marathoner Avery Collins was sponsored by Mary's Medicinals. Formula Drift car racer Danny George was sponsored by pot company Shango. And Weedmaps sponsors video game competitions.
But how much time does the average person spend watching ultra marathoning, drifting or pro video games? Not nearly as much time as they do watching NASCAR, which, despite being a lot of left turns and not much else, still reels in millions of viewers.
And even though perhaps 70 percent of high-level athletes have used pot, as the Denver Post says, the only athletes who can openly back bud are ones who are done playing — Ricky Williams in the NFL, Cliff Robertson of the NBA.
NASCAR's move to ban Veedverks may have seemed like the good, safe idea. But it's backfiring like a poorly tuned engine. Outrage at NASCAR's move is pulsating through the Internet, which is flaming NASCAR for the stank hypocrisy of being associated with alcohol and nicotine but not cannabis. It's costing them cannabis-friendly fans, who are boycotting the sport. "I'm done with NASCAR," someone named "jimmy" wrote on Yahoo News. "Watching NASCAR stoned is amazing," wrote VinylAndOctavia on Reddit.
And attention is pouring in to Veedverks. They're hoping to display Carl Long's blank hood in their offices, a testament to this weird moment we're in, when cannabis is almost a part of mainstream society, but not quite.
This is all a good reminder of where weed actually is in this country. Cannabis is accepted in places like Colorado and California, and in industries like music and design, but there are still huge parts of the country, and huge industries, that don't yet accept it. Sports is one. The South, NASCAR's birthplace, is another.
For now, it's back in the closet for cannabis and sports.
But Veedverks is not giving up.
"Many other athletes and sports have reached out for us to sponsor them," said Hyde, the Veedverks spokesperson. "You haven’t seen the last of Veedverks sponsoring athletes."