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NBA veteran turned entrepreneur pushes for Black equity in growing cannabis industry

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Former NBA journeyman Al Harrington, who played 16 years of professional basketball, is a leading advocate for reforming marijuana laws and has been pushing lawmakers to enact change. The CEO and co-founder of the cannabis company Viola Brands, Harrington told Yahoo News that Black Americans deserve to have an equitable share of a booming marijuana industry that once “destroyed” parts of the Black community.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

AL HARRINGTON: We could really benefit from something that ultimately destroyed, literally destroyed our community, for so many years. My name is Al Harrington, a former NBA player of 16 years and now cannabis entrepreneur and CEO and co-founder of Viola.

Our goal is to become a national brand with purpose. Our purpose is really focused on empowering people of color to be able to participate in a industry that was obviously used to destroy our communities. The space is booming. This year in 2021 it's expected to be a know 24 and 1/2 to $25 billion business. So when you think about that, well, obviously there's tremendous opportunity in the space.

We are still being disproportionately affected. Right now, we represent less than 4% of the industry, especially when you talk specifically to Black ownership and participation. We have to figure out a way to stop that and to get more, be more involved in the industry. Right now, they have these different programs of social equity and different things like that. But social equity in theory, it's a good program. But until we can figure out funding, it's something that we're not going to able to take advantage of.

What our people need to realize is that this is generational wealth at risk for our community. There's been so many industries before this one. I speak about all the time, rice, sugar, cotton, the lottery, even liquor. You know what I'm saying? Black people were right there. We were founders. And we were pioneers in thee spaces. And when you look at us today in 2021, we don't have no representation. We have no ownership.

So with cannabis, I feel like being myself and other Black people that have found success in the space, we have to continue to speak on this. We cannot expect that they're just going to do the right thing because they haven't done the right thing historically. So it's really on us to raise this awareness but then also be able to show people and give people a template of, look at how Viola's working with this company. Look how Viola's working with that company. You know what I'm saying? So that we can try to, like I said, be able to create this ecosystem where we support each other and that we can start to grab some market share in this space.

CHUCK SCHUMER: We should decriminalize it. Time has come. And there was a lot of old logic.

AL HARRINGTON: Senator Schumer's team reached out to me to find out would I be interested in having some conversations with him in regards to the legislation language and different things like that. And why I took the opportunity is because I think that my perspective is unique. Right?

So I think that that's why it's really important to be able to have a seat at the table and be able to sit there as they craft some of these laws and these regulations to make sure that they keep us in mind, and also make sure that these opportunities are real true opportunities, not opportunities that we'll have the licenses for a year or two and then we're forced to sell for pennies on the dollar because we weren't able to upkeep or be able to actually keep up.

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