portrait of CEO of Highsman Eric Hammond in front of white background

Courtesy of Highsman

Industry Innovators: Eric Hammond, CEO & Co-founder of Highsman

Keegan Williams

By Keegan Williams

February 21, 2023

As the cannabis industry continues to grow, it’s easy to get lost in the amount of celebrity-led cannabis brands.

— the cannabis lifestyle brand of well-known former NFL running back — is one of many, though CEO Eric Hammond attests that Highsman stands apart from the rest.

Williams is known for his stellar athletic career, sure, but he’s often recognized for his progressive stance on cannabis and alternative medicine. Williams was suspended five times for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy and missed two full seasons because of cannabis use. 

While the 45-year-old no longer plays football, he’s remained vocal about cannabis and other plant medicines as essential resources that helped him throughout his life, and continue to help others, to regulate spiritual, physical and mental health.

“His goal is to utilize [cannabis] to make change,” Hammond said. “That was the underlying cause going into this, why Ricky wants a cannabis brand. It’s not because he wants to make money and he wants notoriety. He’s already infamous for cannabis. He wants to do something good with that, and that’s his entire journey.”

As a self-proclaimed “classically trained businessman and hardcore pothead,” it was that aim that drew Hammond in to help lead the Highsman brand and share Williams’ vision with the masses.

Finding Footing as a Cannabis Professional

A consumer for more than two decades, Hammond himself has connected with cannabis as a medicine and mental health aid. As someone who is “relatively high strung,” he said, cannabis serves a number of personal purposes, from providing additional focus to upping his creative thinking and helping him relax at the end of the day. 

“My journey with cannabis started way back in high school, college, and it’s been a mainstay of my life ever since,” Hammond said. “It’s been about a decade, maybe a little less than that, since I’ve been able to embark on a journey bringing that passion for cannabis into my business life. And it’s been incredible.”

Courtesy of Highsman

Hammond has always been an entrepreneur, making his way to cannabis from the tech space. From his tenure at companies like SMS Audio, another celebrity-led brand founded by 50 Cent, he credited his role as an “incredible learning experience,” learning how to take a concept from manufacturing to global distribution while also learning how to harness the power of a star.

It was a helpful opportunity that worked to elevate Hammond to his next chapter as a cannabis entrepreneur, to apply his skills to “something I was much more passionate about than headphones,” in Hammond’s words.

The stars aligned, as the U.S. cannabis industry continued to blossom throughout the 2010s. Hammond wrapped up his role at SMS Audio in 2016 and wanted to stay living in Florida, which had legalized medical cannabis effective Jan. 1, 2015. He started at

, a distributor of cannabis accessories, packaging, solutions and lifestyle products.

The company initially brought Hammond in to help build out Greenlane’s own licensed brands division, acting as a large distributor of big-name brands in the space. Hammond saw an opportunity to build Greenlane’s own brand concept and helped develop the

retail brand. This, in turn, led to his part in a number of licensing deals, collaborating with Marley Natural, Keith Haring, VIBES papers, Cookies and more.

“That was really my introduction into cannabis and cannabis brands was through Greenlane and helping build ancillary brands. And ultimately, that’s what got me connected to Ricky.”

Building the Highsman Brand

Hammond was struck by the authentic cannabis advocacy aims Williams held close as he initially searched for a route into the cannabis space. The pair connected while Hammond was still working at Greenlane as the company explored the opportunity to license a brand for Williams. Hammond’s interest was piqued.

“Ultimately, after a number of conversations with Ricky, I really felt like there was a lot more for him to do in this space than build a couple of products and get some mailbox money,” Hammond said. “Having been exposed to Berner and Cookies and VIBES, and understanding how someone was able to build an engaged community that extended far beyond a product in a bag or a jar, I felt very few people had the ability and authenticity to do that.” 

Courtesy of Highsman

Williams played for the Miami Dolphins from 2002 to 2004 and again from 2007 to 2010. Hammond himself was a Dolphins fan, already well aware of Ricky Williams and the trials he faced throughout his career.

“But, once I actually learned about Ricky Williams’ passion and belief, it changed my perspective,” Hammond said. “That really kicked us off on this journey.”

Hammond took a leap and left Greenlane to jumpstart the Ricky Williams cannabis brand, fully believing in the NFL vet’s ability to build an engaged community at the intersection of cannabis and sports.

Connecting with Cannabis Consumers Through an Authentic Vision

is still admittedly a young brand, first launching in October 2021, though Hammond said that from the initial conversations, the uniting concept that has and continues to echo throughout the brand is authenticity. Referencing the amount of in the game now, he said it takes a lot more than a well-known name to build a brand that connects with people.

No matter how great the celebrity or the product is, Hammond said it’s important that the teams behind these names put a lot of thought into what they are doing, namely that the concept can connect with cannabis consumers.

“Ricky’s not just a celebrity that’s known for weed; he’s a celebrity that, you know — he took arrows for [cannabis] before it was OK,” Hammond said. “We’re just now moving from this villain-to-visionary phase of his life, and he never wavered. It’s not like, ‘Oh, shit, this isn’t OK. I’m gonna hide it.’ He was like, ‘Fuck you, NFL. Like I care. Too much about my body and my belief in this helping me to back down.’”

Hammond believes this helps separate them from other brands and creates an idea for consumers to connect to. He also admitted that he brings a valuable perspective to the table, both with his professional business experience and his personal relationship with cannabis throughout the years.

“I feel like the industry kind of misses that,” Hammond said. “There’s a lot of people that sit on one or the other, and I feel like I’m able to walk the line between the two. And you know, as a cannabis consumer, like consumers, they see through stuff especially in cannabis, something that people connect with so personally. It’s not a regular consumer packaged good, like this is different. It’s part of people’s lives. And people take it seriously.”

One way Hammond sees this is among

, which he said carry the most influence within the industry.

“I’m a super educated consumer, and every time I go into a dispensary, I still ask the budtender like, ‘What’s your favorite?’ I can’t help it! They have so much control, and knowing that most budtenders are probably too young to have watched Ricky play or know the story, but they know the lore and as they start learning about what he’s done, people are a lot more excited to meet him and thank him for standing up for what he did for cannabis.”

And according to Hammond, Williams loves that attention, being celebrated for more than just his athletic career. He reached the pinnacle that he was looking toward, and ostracized for, over the better part of the previous two decades.

Hammond gave a shout out to all of the other athletes finding their place in the cannabis space, and said he would like to see all of them be a part of the community. To Hammond, this hearkens back to Williams’ goal. It’s much more than building a brand to build capital; Highsman is creating an entirely new cannabis space.

Courtesy of Highsman

Highsman: The Intersection of Cannabis and Sports

As the Highsman brand continues to gain prominence, Hammond referenced the “blue checks” in Williams’ DMs on

, those high-profile names and fellow celebrities he might have crossed paths with in his past, writing him unsolicited and apologizing for their treatment and judgment of the former athlete.

“As we peek through it and see, it’s wild, the amount of athletes that reach out to him and are pretty much like, ‘You were right,’” Hammond said. “It’s cool, and it’s prompted us to have conversations with them and try to bring them into the fold with what we’re doing.”

Of course, the timing is right. As cannabis continues to become more normalized in society, especially around mental and physical health, the Highsman brand truly couldn’t have come at another time in history. The tides are changing, and the NFL is finally making shifts in the same direction.

During the 2021 offseason, the NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to change the league’s cannabis policy, which now says that players must test for cannabis just once a year at the start of training camp. Players who fail the test are subject to a fine rather than lengthy suspensions like Williams endured. 

Last year, the league also

$1 million in grants for two studies looking into the efficacy of cannabis and its compounds to manage in football players and provide neuroprotection from concussions. 

As the cannabis space continues moving in a more progressive direction, Hammond also sees the opportunity to use Highsman, Williams and his likeness to have important conversations and help move the industry and culture forward. He named Texas as an example, which is known for its highly restrictive cannabis laws — though Williams just happens to be an icon in the state.

“We’re really trying to figure out ways that Ricky can utilize his platform to do better, and he’s passionate about it,” Hammond said. “So it’s just aligning with causes that really align with him.”

Regarding the brand itself, Hammond said it mirrors the overarching Highsman theme centering intent. Even the “H” in the Highsman label has a hidden “34,” an homage to Williams’ jersey number.

themselves strip away the standard sativa/hybrid/indica scheme in favor of pregame, halftime and postgame, based on use case, and within those categories carry -specific products. 

In order to further connect with the community and fully curate the experience in specific regions, Highsman also names strains after market-specific athletes. 

The brand is now a six-market operator and looks toward the future to continue building its products, namely at some of the minor

that can play into their specific categories and even utilizing specific electrolytes in gummies as they look ahead to introducing .

Looking ahead, Hammond stands by the overarching aim of building an international community living at the intersection of sports and cannabis. To do that, Highsman is simply looking to keep growing while adequately supporting the market. He also sees future opportunities to get into merchant apparel, especially as Highsman connects with more people in the community, while utilizing their platform to push future state lobbying in the right direction.

“We really want to build a community and use our brand to do better, which is lofty, but that’s what we really want. That’s what Ricky wants.”

Keegan Williams

About The Author

Keegan Williams