UFC: Israel Adesanya lends support to cannabis legalisation in New Zealand

You could never accuse Kiwi UFC star Israel Adesanya of pulling a punch, both inside and outside of The Octagon.

As any of the middleweight world champion's 2.6 million Instagram followers could tell you, Adesanya is unapologetically unfiltered, particularly when it comes to marijuana.

"Everyone knows I smoke," Adesanya tells Newshub. "Everyone knows I partake in the plant."

Adesanya believes the anti-cannabis rhetoric is merely a result of generations of unjust persecution, where the evils of alcohol have somehow escaped the same judicial restrictions and left cannabis the victim of a double standard.

"I remember going for a walk with my dog and I counted three liquor stores within a three-block radius, and maybe five or six other bars.

"You can go into any of those places, get blatantly drunk, and get into your car, drive and crash - and that happens every week.

"So, what's wrong with someone growing a plant that makes them happy, a little bit more relaxed, more sensitive to their feeling, more aware and alert, depending on the strain?"

Adesanya. Photo credit: Getty

With New Zealand fast-approaching its referendum on cannabis, where the public will vote whether to legalise and regulate its sale, use, possession and production, the 30-year-old leaves little doubt which way he'll vote come September.

"What's wrong with taxing it?," he queries. "It's just propaganda that's been passed down through generations and frankly, I'm sick of it. 

"I really don't care."

Marijuana and cannabis are prohibited 'in-competition' by the US anti-doping agency, meaning positive tests are only returned if it's used in the immediate hours before or after competing.

Earlier this month, Kelvin Gastelum - Adesanya's opponent in one of the greatest middleweight fights of all time back at UFC 236 - was handed a backdated nine-month suspension after a positive test from a November 2019 fight.

"I don't think it should be banned," Adesanya says. "Just be smart about it - in moderation with everything.

"I wouldn't advise fighting while you're high, but I wouldn't advise fighting drunk either, unless you're Jackie Chan in Drunken Master."

Recreational use of marijuana for people over 21 has been legalised in 11 American states where the UFC hosts most of its events.

That's contributed to the stigma surrounding its use in the UFC - and mixed martial arts in general - essentially disappearing, with many fighters now endorsing its use, particularly as a means to ease the aches and pains inherent with the code.

Lightweight Nate Diaz has added to his cult hero status by brazenly blazing joints Octagon-side on live television during post-fight press conferences and at live pre-fight workouts. 

Rising bantamweight Sean O'Malley promotes a whole range of marijuana paraphernalia via social media. He's even released his own strain, which he's dubbed 'Suga Show OG'.

Adesanya believes it's high time that Aotearoa followed suit and created a sustainable, taxable marijuana industry.

"I post it on my [Instagram] story and stuff when I smoke… imagine if I got arrested right now for something like that? 

'Oh, Israel had a joint on him so we had to lock him up in a cage. How stupid would New Zealand look?

"It's so backwards and it's frustrating sometimes, but frankly, I don't care."

'The Last Stylebender' says he's savoured his time off during lockdown, using the opportunity to destress and detach from the demands of UFC superstardom.

"It was great not feeling obligated to welcome people into my bubble all the time," he recalls.

"It was nice going grocery shopping and not having people enter my personal space… they respected social distancing and would just say 'what's up' from a few metres away. 

"It made for a nice change from people coming up and touching me being in my face - that can become a little bit too much at times."

Last Monday, Adesanya returned to training at his City Kickboxing base and says he instantly felt the benefits of the hiatus, as he looks ahead to his next title defence against Paulo Costa in approximately August or September.

"I felt awesome that first day back. I felt like [Michael] Jordan. I was on point and I felt stronger than before all this COVID stuff. 

"The travel was also starting to get to me. I needed that reset and now I feel great."