Al Harrington talks about COVID-19 and cannabis, the need for racial justice and ‘never give up’


As a founder, 16-season NBA player and father of four, Al Harrington may be more experienced than most at staying calm under pressure and making tough decisions, including pivot points, that benefit a larger goal. large.

But Harrington, who has been an entrepreneur and active cannabis advocate since retiring from the NBA in 2014, believes anyone can be successful in their chosen field as long as they’re there for the right reasons – even now, when the change in motion seems to fill the business world and in general.

As an investor and mentor, Harrington also aims help others find that success in cannabis, which has been rocked by this global pandemic (like so many other areas, but in some ways particularly). In fact, according to the CEO of Viola Extracts, one thing has been clear over the past few months is that there is no better time for aspiring cannabis industry to start moving.

In the months before and after 2020 took a ‘hard right’ with the COVID-19 outbreak, Harrington and his colleagues worked to emphasize this point, as well as the need to think big (and act quickly) when building social equity and restorative justice. in our legal industry. In an interview, he also explained how Viola Extracts, the flagship brand of wellness company The Harrington Group, has managed to make significant operational changes since the rise of the COVID-19 disease, which has apparently also caused a strong increase in sales.

We spoke by phone about his work and his greatest hopes for the industry in mid-February, two weeks after his 40th birthday, and then again in mid-April, several weeks after many cities and states closed. Americans due to the rising rate of coronavirus infection.

In February, Harrington announced the launch of Viola Cares, an initiative focused on social equity and reintegration, as well as its first “strategic alliance” with Root and rebound, a nonprofit group working to restore power and resources to families and communities most affected by mass incarceration and related policies, such as the United States’ “war on drugs”.

According to the Harrington Company, the initiative was created to provide “education, fair dealing, delisting and incubation programs. [resulting] in over 10,000 jobs, hundreds of new business owners and increased industry diversity by increasing representation, facilitating community building and providing employment opportunities.

This process involves not only job creation through Harrington’s companies and partners, but also investing and mentoring new businesses in a rapidly growing field – one where black and brown businesses and operators historical records have always been excluded, whether by legal cannabis states. the so-called “morality clauses”, a lack of resources and fair competition, or a strongly racist enforcement of the ban.

“We are particularly focused on increasing the workforce from a black and brown perspective,” Harrington explained. “One of the challenges we face when we employ is that minorities don’t even apply for jobs.” One of the reasons for this, he said, appears to be “a lack of disseminated information”.

“The stigma is still so strong that the fact that this is a growing industry that you can be a part of can still be difficult to understand,” he said. “We are trying to educate and bring people of color into the industry in a big way, because all these years of the war on drugs, [basically] targeting communities of color, practically destroyed those communities by imprisoning us. “

Hence Harrington’s work with Viola Cares and Root & Rebound, which he hopes can help those currently and previously incarcerated to move as easily as possible through the stages of gaining support, cleansing. legal slate and the representation of the industry to which they are entitled – of cancellation of registration assistance to companies with capital.

“Back to school is so important,” Harrington said. “Millions of people have gone to jail for something that was a crime but is now part of a thriving industry, and when they return home they still cannot participate in society in a normal way.” In some states of legal and medicinal cannabis, he noted, those convicted of drugs are even explicitly prohibited from participating in the cannabis industry, despite the price they paid to keep it under the ban.

“Some of the people locked up right now are probably some of the most talented people in cannabis,” Harrington said. In addition to fighting such legal injustice, he said, “We are trying to get some form of redress for what happened to them.

See also: Make no mistake: cannabis fairness can’t wait

In collaboration with Root & Rebound, Viola Cares will also produce “a one-of-a-kind toolkit designed specifically for people with cannabis-related beliefs”, which will be called A New Leaf: A “Practical Guide” to Successful Reinstatement After a Cannabis Conviction.

Harrington also plans to continue working one-on-one with business builders whose important and innovative work and perspectives could easily go unsupported in today’s industry. As an example, he cited Butter Baby, now one of the three Harrington group companies. Founded by a duo of black women from California and New York, Butter Baby identified “a need for edibles and an ability to heal people, without all the sugar,” and even work to come up with menu ideas, a Harrington said.

“We are trying to help this company get better distribution,” he added. “One of the biggest issues in this space is that licenses are very expensive, real estate is very expensive, and equipment is very expensive. We’re also trying to see how we could help a few flower brands right now. “

“If you’re not rich, it’s very difficult to compete,” Harrington noted. And all in all, he said, “Minority businesses make up 4-6% of the industry, and that includes women. There are more than enough opportunities here, and if blacks and brunettes could even own 10 or 20% of the market ownership, that would be huge. “

“It’s something to talk about, and right now it seems like it’s falling on deaf ears,” he said. “Some states are very lazy in their approach, trying to do nothing with the job for a level playing field. There is no representation for blacks and browns, and they are still locked up.

As it turns out, reports from the last few weeks indicate that the cannabis industry is in need of experimented, dedicated workers and operators today more than ever.

For example, Harrington said its operations in California and other states have seen a significant increase in sales following the first wave of COVID-19 outbreaks in the United States and preventative “lockdowns”. Cannabis companies dealing with plants or auxiliaries in the United States and around the world (from delivery companies to bong makers) have said the same thing. “I think a lot of people were worried that they wouldn’t be able to buy cannabis or buy their medicine during this time. [crisis] – this is an essential item, people want to stock up.

At the same time, he needed (among other things) to change the packaging processes of companies and to space his employees equipped with PPE, both physically and on the clock. Since the start of the public closings, Harrington has also estimated that the proportion of sales made by delivery has climbed to 75%.

“People always say alcohol is recession-proof, and cannabis potentially can be too,” Harrington said. “People can have tough times and feel anxious whether they’re sitting in a studio or locked up with their family” (or, in this freelance’s case, a handful of roommates).

“If the usage rate increases, more people might be open to trying it,” he continued. “So many people in my life ask me what I would recommend, and what I love about these kinds of conversations and experiences is that it allows people to understand just how amazing this plant really is.”

He also urged all who feel the same to get involved in the cannabis industry, despite the changes and uncertainty seen in many industries today. In cannabis, Harrington said: “We’ve always faced that kind of pressure – it was always about surviving and really evaluating your business from the bottom up, trying to figure out how to keep yourself in a good position. in the industry until all played out.

Overall, Harrington said, “My biggest rule of thumb is to not give up – there is always a solution to every problem. It may take a little longer to find, but it will happen as long as you keep looking. And if you’re into it for the right reasons, anyone can be successful in the cannabis industry.


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