NEW YORK - JANUARY 17: Al Harrington #7 of the New York Knicks celebrates a three pointer against the Philadelphia 76ers on January 17, 2009 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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St. Patrick star and NBA first-round pick Al Harrington is remaining active in retirement, working for cannabis justice and advocacy.

Geoff Magliocchetti

Al Harrington went from a New Jersey high school sensation to a 16-year NBA veteran. Yet, it feels like he’s just getting started.

The Orange, NJ native and former New York Knick has become a major player in advocacy toward medicinal cannabis reform and social justice since his tenure in the Association ended in 2014. He previously called for the legalization of cannabis in an article on The Players’ Tribune and formed his own cannabis company known as Viola. The St. Patrick High School Academy alum named the company after his grandmother, who was the patient that Harrington “saw cannabis help.”

Harrington, 40, was recently profiled by Complex for a cause where these two endeavors collided. In an episode of the Complex World docuseries, Harrington discusses the issue of black inmates having their lives destroyed by arrests for even the smallest cannabis possessions.

Harrington grew up in Orange, a predominantly African-American community where he played witness to the war on drugs during his childhood in the 1980s.

“In eighth grade, I remember two kids in my class getting locked up for having nickel bags (of cannabis) in their locker,” Harrington tells host Pierce Simpson. “People were telling me about that war on drugs and that it was cannabis that got them there. … I was afraid of it, and there was stop-and-frisk too. In my neighborhood, no one had crack, they only had (cannabis).”

“I was afraid of it. I was definitely afraid of it. But I think growing up with that stigma your whole life, people telling you that it’s a gateway drug and all these different things, it was just hard to shake it. I always say that’s the reason I try so hard in being an advocate, trying to change the stigma, trying to humanize the plant.”

Harrington’s company has not only made an impact on the cannabis community but it has also left its mark on more general affairs as well. According to Viola’s website, it “constantly focuses on our community including producing initiatives like feeding over 20,000 people across four markets in 2019 through a series of events, partnerships and Food Drives [sic].”

The Complex appearance also focuses on Viola’s recent collaboration with Root & Rebound, whose mission speaks of “(restoring) power and resources to the families and communities most harmed by mass incarceration through legal advocacy, public education, policy reform and litigation.”

Viola’s own mission likewise seeks to create opportunities. Harrington is hoping it can continue to be a bastion of hope and progress.

“The purpose of our company is (about) power, uplifting, educating people of color about the cannabis industry and ways to get into the space,” Harrington said. “We’re really focusing on re-entry, being able to send newsletters to prisoners about figuring out what they’re going to do when they get out.”

“It’s about being able to connect with different programs and stuff like that, so you can help your transition. What we try to do is to have different programs that (they) can have access to, especially around the cannabis space. Because I feel like they have an expertise that a lot of these Wall Street guys just don’t have.”

“When you look at a lot of these companies that have been run by this type of leadership, they’re struggling. I think they struggle because they don’t tap into the people that made the industry as relevant as it is. I feel like there’s a ton of talent out of those 40,000 people that are still incarcerated. If one thing I can do is find a way to tap into that talent and give them an opportunity and the space, I feel like I’ve done my job.”

Harrington averaged a career-best 20.1 points during the 2008-09 season spent primarily with the Knicks. He also spent his NBA career with Indiana, Atlanta, Golden State, Denver, Orlando, and Washington. Harrington also partook in professional overseas endeavors in China, Oceania, and the Big3 basketball league.

For more on Viola, click here.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

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