Al Harrington On How His Grandmother Inspired Him To Create His Own Cannabis Company | Forbes

In 2012, as Harrington’s basketball career was coming to an end—he was a power forward for the Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks, Denver Nuggets who earned nearly $100 million over the course of his career—he co-founded Viola, a Los Angeles-based cannabis company named after his grandmother. Viola grows, processes, and sells all types of pot products, from flower to concentrates to pre-rolled joints. Harrington now has operations in California, Colorado, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Washington, and generated about $20 million in revenue last year. In 2021, NBA Hall of Famer Allen Iverson joined the company and Viola launched the “Iverson Collection” line of marijuana products. Just as making it to the NBA is the longest of long shots, Harrington is a rarity in the cannabis world. In an industry that generated $25 billion in legal sales last year, only 2% of companies are Black-owned.

“That is an issue,” says Harrington, who pulled up to the airport in a white Rolls-Royce Cullinan wearing a Rolex President watch and a gold chain with a bust of his grandmother around his neck. “How can [the policing of] this drug have done so much harm in our communities,” he asks, “and now is a multibillion-dollar industry and not only are we not in position to participate, but we’re still locked up because of it?”

He didn’t grow up smoking weed. Then in 2011, when he was playing for the Denver Nuggets, his grandmother Viola, then a Bible-thumping 79-year-old Southerner, came to see him play. She arrived with a “pharmacy” of pills to treat her glaucoma and diabetes. Harrington said that he had read about the potential medical benefits of marijuana and learned how cannabis could help her eyesight. “‘What is cannabis,’ she asked me,” Harrington recalls. “‘Marijuana; weed,’ I said. She looked at me: ‘Reefer? Boy, you out of your mind if you think I’m about to smoke reefer.’”

The next day, his grandmother was in so much pain that she relented. Harrington’s friend brought over some bud and a vaporizer, and she took a few hits. A little while later, Viola was sitting in a chair, reading her Bible. “She’s crying tears and said, ‘I’m healed. I haven’t been able to read the words in my Bible for over three years,’” Harrington says.

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