Former NBA Star Al Harrington Expands CBD Business, Creating Opportunities For Communities Of Color

“Not only from a job-creation standpoint but from an ownership standpoint.”

Al Harrington is quickly making his mark as a CBD mogul after first launching his company, Harrington Wellness, in February 2018. 

Now, as the company continues to expand with products available in Colorado, Oregon, California and Michigan, the former NBA player says this is only the beginning.

“We’re working on applications in Illinois, Missouri, Maryland and New Jersey. So we’re trying to expand nationally,” Harrington told BET. 

The first CBD brand launched by Harrington Wellness was re+PLAY, which combines traditional sports medicine with custom CBD formulations designed to support active lifestyles, according to the company’s website

“We sell topical cream, capsules and a wellness shot,” Harrington said.

While the success of his company is to be celebrated, Harrington is well aware that being a successful Black man in the growing CBD industry is rare. 

“One of the issues is we don’t have access to capital, which is very important,” Harrington explained. “We are not educated enough to realize the vast opportunities and I’m trying to change that.” 

Harrington intends to use Viola Extracts, a division of the Harrington Group companies named after his grandmother, who found benefits from vaping extracts of Cannabis to treat her glaucoma, as a catalyst for other minorities to succeed in the industry. 

“One of the things I’m trying to do, especially with Viola [Extracts], is to become an on-ramp for minorities, especially Black people to participate in the industry,” Harrington said. “Not only from a job-creation standpoint but from an ownership standpoint.” 

The recent uproar from the medical community about vaping and the lung illnesses that could be caused by it creates an opportunity for Harrington to speak out in defense of the products his company sells and which he wholeheartedly believes in. 

“The vitamin [E acetate] that they were worried about, we don’t have any in our products,” he explained. “But at the end of the day it's not just about Cannabis, it’s about the vaping industry as a whole and they’re pooling Cannabis in that and I think it’s pretty unfair.”

The former New York Knicks forward says they’re talking more about black market products. 

At Harrington Wellness all products go through a rigorous testing phase before being released to the public. Still, the black market penetrates the legal market by creating bogus products and labeling that look very similar to the legal companies. 

“That’s why we screen for regulations all the time because of issues like this,” he said. “We also know that the regular vaping that the tobacco industry is selling to kids is harmful compared to Cannabis. Cannabis is not harmful, at all.”

Harrington added, “They’re being irresponsible about the way they’re getting it to the public because its really two different things that’s going on.”

The pro-baller stands by his brand as it releases trusted products that he and his family use themselves. 

“So, I’m putting my health on the line with the products because I believe in it,” he said. “We spend a lot of time on the products so that we make sure that what we say they are and what experience we say it's going to give you it actually gives you. That’s something that’s very important for me and all the founders of our brand.   

“We just want to continue to create products that are trusted, that work, and give people an alternative way to medicate themselves,” he reiterated, adding. “Health and wellness is very important for me, not only because I’m an ex-athlete but even for the Black community I feel like a lot of times it’s overlooked. With Harrington Wellness we want to change that narrative and give our people a natural way to medicate themselves.” 

If Black entrepreneurs have strong business plans for getting their foot in the door of the cannabis industry, Harrington wants to hear from them because it’s another way to create wealth for communities of color. 

“When you think about Black people in general, they’re innovative,” he said, adding, “I feel like we have a market share we just don’t have the resources to bring them to the legal side of this industry.” 

He advises those interested in learning more to tap into their state’s resources like social equity programs that exist in California, New York, New Jersey, Michigan and other states, which give people of color an opportunity to participate by providing discounted rates on the licensing fees among other incentives. 

“Also, if you have a good business plan, get it out to other companies, like myself, companies that are reaching out and trying to help some of these people start small businesses,” he said. “White labeling is also another opportunity where you create the brand and packaging and take it to operators like myself.” 

The future is bright for Harrington Wellness and their goals for 2020 include other ways of giving back to communities of color through their foundation, Viola Cares. 

“We’re going to start giving back a part of our revenue to our foundation, Viola Cares, which will go out to expunging records, educating the youth about the industry, and letting them know that there’s a viable opportunity to be in this industry with very well paying jobs,” he revealed. 

According to the ACLU, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana. 

“We’re trying to change the stigma and change people’s lives,” Harrington said, adding, “especially when Cannabis was something used to destroy our community.”

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