Former NFL star Williams entered cannabis industry with clear goal

Ricky Williams
  • Programming note: "Race In America: A Candid Conversation" will air Thursday Feb. 24 at 5:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area

Ricky Williams says he has read the books and traveled the lands and now, having done the research, he has something to say that goes beyond football, the business of cannabis and his abiding belief in its therapeutic properties.

“If we study the history of cannabis and the regulations and the laws, they’re racially motivated,” the former Pro Bowl running back says. “And so, understanding that, it’s bulls--t -- excuse my French -- that football players were ever banned from using cannabis.”

Statistics tend to support this assertion. An ALCU analysis conducted from 2001-2010 found that 88 percent of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests made in the United States during that time were simply for possession. Moreover, Black people were arrested at 3.73 times the rate of white people – despite usage being roughly equal in both races.

The subject of cannabis, from the stigma to the sticky, accounted for much of the half-hour discussion with Williams on a current episode of “Race in America: A Candid Conversation,” on NBC Sports Bay Area.

Williams, 44, is among many who believe marijuana criminalization is a longtime tool of oppression, designed to ship people of color into prisons, many of which are for-profit operations.

“I’ve seen it first-hand,” he says from his Southern California home. “I’ve even talked to cops. And they say they're taught that when they pull someone over and ask to search the car, if allowed, they look for a ‘roach.’

“Cannabis laws, literally, have been used to get African Americans and other minorities into the criminal system.”


Though marijuana remains federally illegal, 18 states over the last decade have legalized it and 13 more have decriminalized it. Roughly two-thirds of Americans, according to a November 2021 Gallup poll, support legalization.

The progress has Williams feeling good these days. His startup company, “Highsman,” pronounced the same as the trophy he won in 1998, when he rushed for 2,124 yards at the University of Texas, entered the cannabis business four months ago.

He says he has educated himself on the history of cannabis and other organic opiates and contends his company has, pardon the pun, a higher purpose than most competitors.

“My conclusion was, and I’ve studied a lot of indigenous cultures, from all continents, a couple things,” Williams says. “First, most agree that, in order for true healing to occur, it required an altered state of consciousness. In all of these cultures, they had ritual usage of indigens or psychedelic, usually plant-based medicines. All of them. They were considered religious sacraments.

“And (people of color), we’re closer to indigenous culture than the quote-unquote “civilized Western Caucasian.” For me, herb, whether it’s cannabis specifically or plant medicine that lifts us to an altered state of consciousness and gives us a different perspective.”

As someone who spent 11 seasons in the NFL, Williams accepts and understands that cannabis in its various forms can provide benefits for anything from body aches to acute pain and glaucoma. Studies have shown cannabis, particularly Cannabidiol (CBD), can lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation and curtail anxiety.

All good and well, and this explains its prevalence among high-level athletes, particularly football players, some of whom in retirement report daily usage.

Williams is convinced, however, that those who focus on the physical benefits are “missing the point” of a product that heals more than the body.

“For me, personally, I needed healing,” he says. “And I think people need healing. Whether it’s cannabis or mushrooms or whatever, an altered state of consciousness -- where we let go of our limited self, where it’s all about me, me, me -- and open it up to a bigger, grander way of understanding the world, no healing is going to occur.

“If your mind is open, if your mind is free, if you’re not as stressed, you have more energy. You have more resources available to take care of and repair your body. I don’t want to take anything away from the physical benefits, but the true benefit of cannabis is that it opens our minds.”

If this sounds cosmic and mystical, well, it is. Williams believes in astrology and the significance of the stars. His mentality qualifies for a card in the club of those free spirits once upon a time referred to as “hippies.”

They had a higher purpose and believed it could be achieved through natural ingredients, rather than those created in a laboratory. So, too, does Ricky Williams.