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November 30, 2020
The Spark: Talking to Viola's Al Harrington

Photo courtesy of Viola

Al Harrington spent sixteen years in the NBA, playing for the Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic and more. For ten years, he never went near cannabis, because of the league’s harsh policies towards the plant. It wasn’t until 2008 that he smoked the first time, and then in 2012, began incorporating CBD into his rehab for “multiple botched knee surgeries.” His discovery of the plant’s medicinal properties led him to share it with those closest to him, such as his grandmother. When she tried it and was moved to tears by her experience at relieving pain, he decided to start his new path as a cannabis mogul, naming his new product line, Viola, after her.

Harrington is committed to normalizing cannabis, acting as an advocate to have the NBA remove weed from its list of banned substances, and also a commitment to equalizing the playing field for Black weed entrepreneurs. As part of his new social equity initiative, Viola Cares, he announced recently a new mission to make 100 Black millionaires in the cannabis sector, through a new incubator program.

Here, Harrington talks more about his most powerful cannabis moment, how consumers can help support Black entrepreneurs, and correcting the most common weed misconceptions. 

On his relationship with cannabis: Because I had my sight set on the NBA and the negative stigma around cannabis, I steered clear of it. I was drafted at such a young age. 

It wasn’t until later in my career, when the medicinal benefits outweighed the negative stigma that I was able to see the positive power of cannabis.

On his A-Ha moment with cannabis: When I was finally able to convince my grandmother Viola to try cannabis for the first time. She has intense pain from glaucoma, and I saw that relief set in.  When she went for her Bible and started to read, the tears came down her face.  That was one of the most powerful moments.

On correcting misconceptions about cannabis: The oldest misconceptions about cannabis is that it is a gateway drug.  This isn’t new, it’s been that way since the beginning. People are just now able to open their eyes and see the medicinal, mental benefits of this plant.  Another important misconception and one that Viola’s dedicated to fighting vehemently is removing the stigma around those who have been incarcerated for marijuana possession.

On his 100 Black millionaires pledge: We created Viola Cares back in November of 2019 and have positioned the program at the forefront of the social equity dialogue within the industry.  Through education, equitable offerings, expungement, and incubation efforts within the program, the initiative will ultimately result in more than 10,000 jobs, hundreds of new business owners and expanded industry diversity by increasing representation, facilitating community building and providing employment opportunities. The current barriers to entry that we are working to dismantle and the motivations of those in power to preserve the status quo. 

On how it feels to be a Black founder in cannabis: It’s two-fold: It’s an honor to be one of the few Black men that lead the future of this industry and finally bring the issues that affect our community to the table where decisions are made. At the same time, there is also a level of disappointment because I shouldn’t be one of the few Black men in the industry. In 2020, I should be able to see more people that look like me and share some of the same realities I’ve experienced in my lifetime with cannabis. 

On how consumers can support and help: Support Black and brown-owned businesses.  By supporting them, you’ll be helping to create more jobs and more opportunities for people of color. It will level the playing field and let them rise up within the ranks of the cannabis industry. 

On his favorite products: When I’m just getting my day started and need something that’s going to keep me going, not bring me down, I gravitate towards J1 for its super uplifting and sweet aroma to get my creative juices flowing.  After a long day, when I want to put everything behind me and decompress for the night, I’ll roll up some Wedding Cake for the earthy indica flavor with its intense euphoric effects to provide a deep sleep.

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