October 13, 2020
NBA player turned cannabis entrepreneur Al Harrington is urging the cannabis industry not to forget its "pioneers" — those who worked in the illicit market and paid for it — amid the push toward legalization and regulation.
"We also have to keep in mind all the pioneers and people that have gotten this industry to where it is right now," he said. "We want to make sure that there's equity opportunities so that we can also benefit from, you know, a product that they use to destroy a lot of people's lives through incarceration."
After 16 seasons in the NBA, Harrington founded cannabis producer Viola Brands, where he also serves as CEO. The company has a special focus on cultivating a diverse and inclusive cannabis industry.
After watching Wednesday's vice presidential debate, during which Sen. Kamala Harris pledged to "decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana," Harrington said "it was about time" politicians got serious about legalization and decriminalization. But he urged lawmakers to consider equity first when regulating newly legal markets — especially on the state level.
"A lot of times the way that these laws and legislation is written, social equity is something that is brought up on the tail end," he said. "So we want to be able to have representation in the beginning, so that there's an even playing field. So we can go out and compete for market share."
As a businessman, Harrington said he recognizes his own role in creating the type of cannabis industry he wants to see. Viola Brands launched its own equity program, called Viola Cares, which is focused on increasing industry diversity and providing employment opportunities for those impacted by cannabis criminalization. He emphasized one initiative that helps individuals incarcerated for nonviolent cannabis crimes prepare for reentry into society.
"We set up these toolkits that give them options so that when they do come home, they can try to find a way to land on their feet," he said. "Eventually, you know, I think that through some of these initiatives and using companies like mine and some of these other companies, we can also employ these people and plug them right into the industry.
Harrington also teased another initiative, a business incubator program he called Viola Builds. The incubator program, which launched Tuesday, aims to create "100 Black millionaires within cannabis" by extending critical resources and operational support to brands within the program.
Harrington named Viola Brands after his grandmother, who found relief from diabetes and glaucoma through cannabis remedies.
Updated 11:57 am ET with additional details regarding the Viola Builds program