After making moves on the court for close to two decades, retired NBA power forward Al Harrington is now making moves in the cannabis industry. Harrington is the CEO and co-founder of Viola, the largest premium Black-owned, multi-national cannabis company which recently opened its first brick-and-mortar space in St. Louis.
But growing up in a family where some members struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, Harrington didn’t become interested in marijuana until he was playing professionally in the NBA.
On this episode of The Plant Lady, Harrington discusses his early encounters with the drug in pro sports, how it aided his grandmother, and how he’s using his platform to advocate for a more equitable cannabis industry.
Named after his late grandmother who used cannabis to treat her glaucoma, Viola pays homage to the drug that allowed his grandma to read her Bible for the first time in years. “For her to be open-minded enough to try cannabis, it made me realize that what we’re doing is God’s work,” Harrington says “God put this plant here for a reason.”
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Harrington firmly believes marijuana has the power to bring people and communities together, even if many people still have issues with the plant. “I think the main thing that [my grandmother’s story] does to me is it humanizes the plant,” Harrington says. “[That] allows people to let their guard down and have a real conversation.”
In his quest for a more-informed cannabis industry, Harrington has spoken with politicians across the US where the drug is legal either medically or recreationally—including Senator Chuck Schumer.
Harrington also discusses his desire for others to know the hurdles that Black businessmen and women face in the cannabis industry. We still have a long way to go in order to achieve social equity, he argues, while sharing the importance of understanding predatory investors preying on minority business owners.
With so much work that still needs to be done, Harrington continues to use his platform to advocate for positive changes in the world of marijuana. “Hopefully brands like mine and others that I know of as well, we can continue to make the investment back into the communities like we said we would,” Harrington says.
To learn more about Al Harrington and Viola, listen to this week’s full episode of The Plant Lady.