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Cubs great Ryne Sandberg new spokesman for Chicago-based weed retailer Verilife, as marijuana goes fully mainstream

Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

Founded in 2014, PharmaCann abandoned a $682 million deal to sell to California-based MedMen Enterprises in 2019. It was forced to give MedMen a cultivation center, a dispensary and a license to open another one as part of the breakup cost.

The company is looking to Sandberg to spark retail sales and raise its profile in its home state, while helping bring in new users.

“There are a lot of people out there that are kind of curious and not quite sure what cannabis is and how it’s used,” said Mehul Patel, PharmaCann’s COO. “What Ryne went through and his ability to then sort of relate to others who are going through the same things as cannabis continues to expand and new entrants come into the market, I think that is a very powerful story.”

Patel said they are considering using Sandberg in Pennsylvania, where he started his baseball career and Verilife has a retail presence, though it isn’t clear Phillies fans will want to be reminded of one of the worst trades in the team’s history.

The Phillies threw Sandberg in as part of the 1982 exchange of shortstop Larry Bowa for Ivan DeJesus, giving the Cubs a Hall of Fame second baseman.

Like many so-called canna-curious, Sandberg became interested in trying marijuana as legalization and social acceptance has grown.

Recreational marijuana use is now legal in 17 states and Washington D.C., with New Mexico, Virginia and New York the most recent to approve it. Marijuana sales in Illinois have soared since the state legalized recreational use on Jan. 1, 2020, reaching $1.03 billion last year. The pace has accelerated this year at the state’s 110 recreational dispensaries.

 

One in four Americans used cannabis in some form during the past 12 months, according to a YouGov study released last month, with nearly one-fourth trying it for the first time.

Now Sandberg is on a paid mission to introduce cannabis to his legion of baseball fans and others who may not necessarily respond to the growing ranks of other celebrity weed endorsers. That list includes the likes of Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, Jay-Z, Seth Rogen and Melissa Etheridge.

Chicago sports stars have long leveraged their athletic accomplishments with lucrative sponsorships, none more prolific than former Bears coach Mike Ditka, who has endorsed more than 50 products — everything from jewelry stores to impotence drugs — since winning the Super Bowl in 1986.

This is not the first promotional venture for Sandberg, who also serves as an ambassador for the Chicago Cubs and this year joined the team’s Marquee Sports Network as a part-time contributor.

In 2017, Sandberg followed former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher as a hair-transplant endorser for Oak Brook-based Restore. That sponsorship has since run its course, Sandberg said.

“That was a very nice, gratifying four-year deal — gratifying because I gained some hair out of the process,” Sandberg said.

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