Al Harrington, the 16-year-old NBA veteran and co-founder and CEO of Viola Brandsis at the forefront of the fight for social justice in the cannabis industry – a battle he doesn’t see ending any time soon.
Viola recently partnered with the Cleveland Cannabis School in release its own education platform, and Harrington Institutewhich aims to create economic opportunities for individuals, especially in black communities, who are looking to enter the market.
In early 2020, the company launched a separate social equality initiative, Viola Cares, in partnership with a national nonprofit, Root & Rebound. The initiative aims to offer education, offering and incubation programs to help increase diversity in the industry.
“We generally try to help in any way we can,” says Harrington. Cannabis Business Times. “There are a lot of holes in the boat, and trying to fix them all is difficult. For us, we are just trying to position ourselves to be an asset in the industry, especially for people of color, as we try to navigate our future in space. [where] We deserve to be seated at the table. ”
Here, Harrington provides an update on Social Justice Initiatives Viola and discusses what works well, what doesn’t, and how the industry can unite to support minority-owned businesses in the search for diversity.
Melissa Schiller: What is Viola currently working on to help advance social justice in space? Finally we spoke, the company was launching the Harrington Institute in partnership with the Cleveland School of Hemp — are there any updates on that or other initiatives Viola is involved in?
Harrington: and you know, [at] At Harrington Institute, we started our first courses in November. They started on November 8th. We are now in the process of pursuing that approach. We are really excited about this term. There were a lot of people who were very, very interested in getting into the cannabis field and how they could actually get involved. I think with the curriculum that we have, we’ve put together a few different courses that give people all kinds of exposure and not just what most people think, you just have to grow herbs to be a part of this thing. There are lots of other things you can do. So, we’re really excited about this partnership with the Cleveland School of Cannabis. They really got involved. I’m really excited to be our first graduate student. We hope to inspire the next round of entrepreneurs [and show them] They are able to achieve ownership within the space or whatever they are passionate about. We’re just so excited about it.
In terms of pushing for social justice, it’s a fight that I feel will be one forever. When you think about other industries that still have the same diversity issues, I don’t think they will ever go away. Obviously, I was trying to defend her. I realize this conversation must be bigger than me. We’re just trying to be bigger players who keep stepping in and trying to bring this to the fore so we can address it and allow one day social justice to be what it’s supposed to be, which for me is an opportunity. For people to benefit and access generational wealth or just real success in this industry.
As for me, I will continue to do what I’ve been doing, trying to figure out how I can work strategically with others in the field so that we have a greater impact overall. I think that’s one of the things that I will definitely be working on in 2022, trying to get more diversity within the people who are actually trying to help social justice.
Michael: Looking back at 2021, what kind of progress has the cannabis industry made with social justice in the past year? What do you see as steps forward or victories in the field?
Uh: I think it is too early to say frankly that there are real successes. I think the state is still building a lot of social justice programs. California still hasn’t done it right, and I think Michigan is trying the same – those are the markets I’m in.
In terms of pushing for social justice, it’s a fight that I feel will be one forever.
—Al Harrington, Co-Founder and CEO, Viola Brands
You’ve had some bright spots in 2021 with New York, the way they want to address social justice and help social justice applicants get the resources so they can have success if they win those licenses. We know that in a state like New York, those licenses would be very valuable. It wouldn’t be like the California model, where there are 3,000 California dispensaries and 5,000 farms. By being limited, these licenses will certainly be of great value.
Michael: What challenges remain for minority-owned cannabis operators?
Uh: I think the first thing is education. We have to continue educating people to understand opportunity and how to build it or what resources are required to actually succeed. What goes hand in hand with that is just the resources and capital. One thing I’ve learned since I’ve been in the field is that participation gets more expensive every year. People are also getting late, and there is a lot of capital required to set up these businesses.
You look at the retail dispensary, which you think is one of the cheapest ways to get into space because obviously farming is in the millions and millions of dollars, [and] Manufacturing million dollars of various equipment and real estate. But with retail you obviously get a lease, you find a place in a green area, but you still need a million and a half or two million dollars to set up a proper store and be able to stock with the product and various things like that. It’s tough at the end of the day.
I think we need to know that part of it because of real social justice [applicants] You don’t have the resources to go out and compete with peers, with the people we really need to go out and compete on a daily basis. You have some of these states where someone like me, because I played in the NBA, they would consider me not social justice because I made a certain amount of money. And that’s wrong too, because I’ve definitely suffered from the war on drugs. I had two cousins who were recently released a few months ago on drug charges. I’ve seen it affect my family in a negative way, and why wouldn’t I want someone like me to get a license? I have the resources to make it work, and then go out and hire and get other people to cuddle, the people who look like me in the space.
The way they deal with different things like this might be a lot better. Like I said, that’s not one thing. It’s many different things. We could be on this phone all day talking about it. And this is just my experience. Other people may see it differently. I think we all need to find a way to get a platform to speak it so that it can be properly addressed, and [so] Social justice can do what it is set out to do, which is provide an opportunity and one we are supposed to win. People want to rebuild our societies with this, so hopefully we can fund this stuff and keep pushing it up.
Michael: In terms of standardizing the industry and starting to address some of these problems, do you see the states leading, or do you think there is a way to advance social justice at the national level? What is the best way forward?
Uh: I think it has to come through legislation. When you think about how much tax revenue this generates, why doesn’t a portion of that revenue go to these companies? Once we build it, it will make more profit. I just think that sometimes, politicians think they’re too short-sighted. It continues to push more business to the black market. The reason they have the black market is because the opportunity is very rich and very expensive.
I think the only way it’s going to work is through legislation, and that’s going to come from people like me and other companies telling their story, and I hope these politicians will listen and put some of this stuff into law, some of that protection that we have that you should really be able to go out and compete.
Editor’s note: This interview has been modified for style, length, and clarity.