In an era in which businessmen are legally profiting off the sale of weed while others who once-upon-a-time flipped a few dope sacks still sit in a cell, Al Harrington is disrupting the cannabis industry in an effort to combat the legal disparity between current weed entrepreneurs and previous weed offenders. The former longtime Indiana Pacer is taking his weed company, Viola, and using it as a platform to abolish the deep-seeded racism surrounding weed that has long plagued the plant and its (previously) underground operations.
To elevate awareness on the social issues important to him, Harrington is using his NBA relationships to create headline-catching weed products, most recently through an all-star partnership with basketball legend Allen Iverson. The collaboration is expected to create a variety of cannabis and non-cannabis products through The Iverson Collection and the upcoming strain “Iverson ‘96” dropping in October, all with the aim of increasing and advancing minority ownership of cannabis goods and services.
From being the 25th overall selection in the 1998 NBA draft by the Indiana Pacers, to playing for the Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards, Harrington decided his life after basketball would be selling weed, and formed Viola in 2011.
We were able to catch up with Harrington via email to get a better understanding of his journey to the NBA, his relationship with weed and how he made the transition from the court to the dispensary.
The News Station: Growing up, was basketball always the path or did you have aspirations to pursue something else?
Al Harrington: I didn’t get into basketball until I was in middle school. I actually had to convince my mom to come to my games because she didn’t believe I was good. I was on the front page of the local newspaper, and when I showed it to her she still needed some convincing but finally agreed.
TNS: At what moment did you realize, “Wait a minute. I might have a shot at pursuing basketball professionally”?
AH: When I was scouted by St. Pat’s [private high school] it started to seem real. I’ve always been a big guy, but I had to put in a lot of work to get to where I was because it wasn’t something that came natural to me.
TNS: Following basketball, had you always known you wanted to get into the cannabis space?
AH: Not always. For the longest time I stayed as far away as I could from marijuana. I saw teammates get arrested for having nickel bags on them and then saw how it impacted the rest of their lives.
[The inspiration for Viola] came from my grandmother. She’d come to a game when I played for the Nuggets and was complaining about typical aches, pains and glaucoma. I told her I’d just read in the newspaper that cannabis was now being used to treat glaucoma, but she didn’t know what cannabis was. When I told her it was weed, she said, “Reefer? Boy, I ain’t smoking no reefer.” The next day she was having issues with her vision and I was finally able to convince her to try [cannabis]. An hour and a half later, I found her crying. She hadn’t been able to read her Bible for three and a half years and said she was healed.
After witnessing my grandmother’s experience and subsequently having my own experience with CBD, I researched and realized [getting into the cannabis business] could be a really good opportunity.
TNS: What role did cannabis play in your life as a player throughout your career?
When I was in the league I didn’t use cannabis or CBD. I had 14 surgeries over the course of my NBA career and the only treatment I used were the prescriptions my doctors provided. It wasn’t until I played with the BIG3 that CBD became a central part of my [injury] recovery. I fully believe that if I had been aware of and able to use cannabis, I could have played three to four years longer.Al Harrington
TNS: What do you currently use cannabis for?
AH: I use cannabis for my mental health, pain management and recreational use.
TNS: How did the Viola partnership with Allen Iverson come about?
Even though we never played on the same team, Chuck [a nickname for Iverson] and I have always been cool. He’s someone we all looked up to and admired. When we were thinking about what we wanted the partnership to look like, we knew we wanted to represent our culture, and because of what he did when he was in the league by just being himself, it all made sense.Al Harrington
TNS: What bond do you and Iverson share around cannabis?
AH: We both saw how the negative stigma around cannabis affected our friends, family and community, and bonded over wanting to create something that would uplift our culture.
TNS: What are your thoughts on cannabis being used as standardized medicine in sports?
AH: I’m a strong supporter of it. As professional athletes, we play through injuries and pain and are given opioids like candy to treat them. During my playing days, I took anti-inflammatories every morning and evening just to get through the day. Now I use CBD to treat myself and I think about how much of an impact that would have on the level of performance for the current players. When it happens, it’ll change the game.
TNS: What has your work on educating folks about the healing power of cannabis entailed?
AH: It started with my grandmother and has grown from there. I’ve educated my entire family on it and now my wife, aunts and even children are aware of the positive effect cannabis and CBD can have on your health.
TNS: What has your work on educating folks about the racist origins of the cannabis stigma entailed?
AH: I’ve spoken to and worked with legislators to fully educate them on the origins of the stigma through everything from sitting down to talk about policy to my thoughts on how things can and should be amended, to just informing them on my experience with the plant while sharing statistics that they might not have been aware of.
TNS: How do we balance moving forward in the cannabis business with the fact that many people still remain in prison for smaller weed-related offenses, which would now be decriminalized or in some cases legal?
By pushing for expungement on both the political and local fronts. It’s about letting representatives know that [expungement] is an important issue while also informing those affected and their loved ones on the potential opportunities available to them. But also ensuring that there’s representation from those communities that were most negatively affected.Al Harrington
TNS: What do you have planned for the future of the Viola partnership with Iverson?
AH: We’re just getting started with the partnership. Iverson ‘96 officially drops October 2, and we have additional strains and products that we’ll be releasing in more markets in the future.
TNS: How does Viola intend to become a fixture of cannabis and social justice advocacy in the future?
AH: Social justice and advocacy are part of Viola. It’s important for us to fight for equity for people who look like me to have real opportunity in this industry. We’ll always advocate for social justice and equity in the space.