LOS ANGELES – Veteran baller and cannabis entrepreneur Al Harrington, founder and chief executive officer at cannabis producer Viola Brands, has committed to creating 100 black millionaires with the brand’s new business incubator and part of social equity program Viola Cares.
The all-American basketball forward this week told financial news platforms, including CNBC, that part of the plan is to help unlicensed product brands and businesses learn how to become legal—particularly, unlicensed businesses owned by people of color.
“A lot of brands that are on the black market that have a lot of credibility and unbelievable following, have market share, but they just don’t know how to get into the legal market,” Harrington told CNBC.com.
“The stigma is still so strong that the fact this is a growing industry that you can be a part of may still be hard to grasp. We’re trying to educate and bring people of color into the industry in a major way, because all these years of the war on drugs, [basically] aimed at communities of color, have pretty much destroyed these communities by incarcerating us,” he added, in a post on Forbes.com.
Viola’s social equity initiatives started rolling out in early 2020, and have gained media coverage as protests against police brutality and racism have swept the globe—a world still reeling from the economic uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cannabis companies across the board have dedicated services and donations to a myriad of nonprofits in the wake of back-to-back worldwide crises.
In this time of great turbulence many like Harrington hope there will be positive change for marginalized populations. Included in those groups are those affected by the war on drugs, which has disproportionately affected people of color.
Viola Brands in late February announced Viola Cares. Founded in partnership with legal advocacy organization Root & Rebound, Viola Cares first outreach project “will produce a first-of-its-kind toolkit designed specifically for people with cannabis-related convictions, to be entitled: ‘A New Leaf: A How-To Guide for Successful Reentry After A Cannabis Conviction.’“
In March, Harrington spoke to SportsIllustrated.com about his advocacy for removing cannabis from the National Basketball Association’s list of prohibited drugs.
“Once again, when you look at the two sports dominated by the black athlete, those are the two that have the harshest penalty towards cannabis. Sometimes I feel like there’s a target again,” he told the sports news platform.
“I think about commissioner Adam Silver. I think he’s definitely open-minded enough. He just wants more education around it, wants more information, more science, to back up these things. But I also think it’s on the players at this point. I think that if the players you know, bring it up and say that’s something that they really want; I think that they can get it,” Harrington added.
Social equity and cannabis policy reforms have become part of a promise for Harrington, who believes that the cannabis industry can and should do great, good things in the fight for change.
“My passion is working towards leaving a legacy. I love what I do everyday through Viola. All of my work is invested to create a brand that uses its platform and dollars to create opportunities of empowerment, education, inspiration for the people who have been most affected by the war on drugs—which primarily are black and brown folks. I see first-hand how these communities suffer at the hands of nonviolent drug offenses and it needs to change,” he told author Warren Bobrow, in a May Q&A for Forbes.com.
Harrington has said his interest in cannabis began as a medicinal alternative for prescription drugs, often prescribed for injuries suffered while playing pro basketball and other professional sports.
During his 16-year career, Harrington played for the Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic, and Washington Wizards.