When Al Harrington was growing up in Orange, he had aunts and uncles who smoked weed, something he says they were shamed for.
As a result, he was “always scared to touch it,” Harrington said in a Vice News segment published in May. See the video below. (Warning: It contains explicit language.)
But after a 16-year NBA career, Harrington now not only touches marijuana, he’s invested $5 million in a cannabis company that he hopes can help people out West — where his products are currently sold — and in his former neighborhood.
“The first thing I started thinking about was how can I go back into my old community and try to uplift the community by bringing this industry there and creating jobs,” Harrington told Vice News.
Harrington’s company is Viola Extracts, which makes marijuana extracts that are sold in dozens of stores out West. He also owns Harrington Wellness, which makes products from CBD, a nonpsychoactive compound found in the cannabis and hemp plants.
After being named an All-American basketball player at the now-closed St. Patrick’s High School in Elizabeth, Harrington jumped straight into the NBA, where he played for seven teams, according to Basketball Reference.
Harrington hopes his second career is just as lucrative, if in a different way.
“I really feel like my company is going to change people’s lives,” he told Vice. “It’s going to change people’s lives through opportunity, it’s going to change people’s lives through medication and through education.”
State lawmakers will have to make a change before Harrington can bring opportunity into New Jersey. Currently the only companies permitted to sell marijuana in the state are the five licensed medical marijuana dispensaries already active, and they can only sell products they make. A sixth dispensary is expected to open in the coming weeks.
The state Legislature is considering both an expansion of the medical marijuana industry, as well as recreational marijuana. Should lawmakers pass recreational, Harrington would be able to attempt to get into New Jersey’s market.
But as for helping his community, he’s acknowledged that it’s been tough for people from impoverished neighborhoods to get into the industry in the West.
“Hell no … they can’t afford it,” he told Vice. “At the end of the day, it costs so much to even submit an application … hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“That’s why I have to continue to try to be an advocate to change some of the laws and break down some of the barriers so that we can allow some of the smaller people to participate and we can really uplift our community with this plant.”