Now it’s baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and marijuana.
Ryne Sandberg, the former Cubs great and Hall of Famer, is the new spokesman for Chicago-based cannabis retailer Verilife, the surest sign yet that weed has gone fully mainstream.
Sandberg, 61, whose All-American image and on-field heroics cemented his place in Cubs lore, is arguably one of the greatest second basemen in baseball history. He’s also one of the least likely celebrity endorsers of cannabis, having never tried weed until this year.
“I really didn’t know anything about it, I didn’t have any interest in it,” Sandberg said. “Now it’s every day sometimes, as I’m looking for something to take the edge off.”
Verilife is owned by PharmaCann, a private Chicago-based cannabis company with a six-state footprint. The company has seven Illinois dispensaries with an eighth set to open in Schaumburg this summer. The Sandberg endorsement includes billboards, social media advertisements and dispensary appearances, starting with a May 23 meet-and-greet in River North.
Terms of the endorsement deal were not disclosed.
Sandberg’s journey from newbie to doobie began with a December visit to the PharmaCann cultivation center in Dwight, about 100 miles southwest of his north suburban Lake Bluff home. He hit a Verilife dispensary the same day.
“I was able to drive down and take a tour,” Sandberg said. “It was pretty remarkable first time seeing anything like that and I was just highly impressed with the whole operation.”
After testing out products for a couple of months, Sandberg found his groove with low-dosage gummies and tinctures, employing a “low and slow” approach, which he uses for everything from pain relief to unwinding at night. He agreed to become spokesman for Verilife in March.
Sandberg also become an investor in the company.
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.©2021 Chicago Tribune. Visit at chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.