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Al Harrington on Weed in the NBA & What the New CBA Means for Players Moving Forward

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
With the NBA removing cannabis from its banned substance list, Al Harrington — owner & CEO of Viola — sees a number of opportunities for current players.

It’s time to celebrate; weed has finally been deemed OK for NBA players to partake in (as soon as the collective bargaining agreement is officially stamped anyway).

The NBA will no longer drug test players for cannabis use per the new collective CBA, according to NBA insider Shams Charania. Additionally, the new CBA will also allow players to invest in cannabis companies. One former player who’s excited about the opportunities these CBA changes may present for both himself and current players is Al Harrington, owner/CEO of Viola, a cannabis company with operations in California, Oregon, Arizona, Michigan, Colorado, and New Jersey.

After playing 16 seasons in the NBA, Al Harrington has since become one of the biggest names in cannabis. He founded Viola Brands, an ode to his grandmother who used cannabis to treat her glaucoma per his suggestion, in 2011 with partners. Initially, the company was Viola Extracts, but it has since rebranded as Viola Brands since the company has diversified its product catalog to also include flower and prerolls, in addition to Viola’s concentrates.

The brand has had much success since its inception, including having the backing of investors such as Kevin Durant, John Wall, Bobby Portis, and Demarcus Cousins, while also boasting partnerships with NBA legends like Allen Iverson and his ‘96 brand. Harrington also owns a CBA company named Re+Play that partnered with the NBAPA on a wellness line in 2022, so if anyone is poised to speak on the possibilities that will come from the NBA removing cannabis from its banned substances list, it’s Harrington.

Curious as to how this may affect current players, Boardroom caught up with Al Harrington to get his thoughts and insights on the latest CBA and what this means for NBA players moving forward.

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Danté Jordan: Did you play any type of consultant or liaison role between the NBA and NBAPA in this process? If so, can you provide some details on your action?

Al Harrington: Nah, I wish they did. Obviously, a lot of my education was through the PA. I got a chance to talk to Adam Silver about it. It was mainly because they were taking more of a [hands-off approach] and working with [NBPA executive director] Tamika [Tremaglio] in regards to how the information was flowing back and forth. Ever since [COVID-19], and they were in the [NBA bubble] when they stopped the testing, it seemed like this was going to happen. It was just a matter of time before they put it in the new collective bargaining agreement.

DJ: Do you have any insight into what was the tipping point of the NBA finally deciding to remove cannabis from the banned substance list altogether? 

AH: There was a trial process, for sure. In the bubble, because guys were definitely dealing with high stress, I think that’s when [the NBA] first acknowledged [cannabis] as a medicinal tool. I think they were also not testing to see if there were going to be slip-ups and guys showing up to the arena high or [quality of play] dropping off. When we see that none of that happened, I think that’s when they were like, “The time is now.” And I think they looked at the other sports, too. All other major sports taking cannabis off of their banned list.

DJ: Who were some of the bigger names on the PA side that were so adamant about removing cannabis from the banned substance list?

Photo courtesy of Viola

AH: I think it was mainly just the heads. It was [Tremaglio] and [former executive director Michele A. Roberts]; it was at the top. The attorneys and the doctors all played a role, but I think it definitely started at the top with Timeka and Michele. They pushed for this; the players pushed for it.

The VPs of the board for the Players Association, their job is to accumulate for the players what are the most important issues for them and cannabis was one of them.

DJ: With the NBA allowing players to invest in companies, how do you think that may affect brands that are struggling in the legal market? Do you think it will provide some sort of relief as far as a new avenue of investment?

AH: That’s the one where I’m not sure because there are so many players that I know of that were already investing. I have a hard time believing that players were waiting for the CBA to be stamped for them to invest. I think that the bigger opportunity is that players are going to be able to promote or they’ll be able to come out with their own brands.

DJ: Do you think players will run toward having a public brand or be cognizant of their fan bases being kids?

AH: I would say the top 30 NBA players, yes; because they probably have endorsements with Mcdonald’s and with this and that. But the majority of the league, guys don’t see any kinds of those deals. They’re making a lot more money, but I’m not seeing them in State Farm commercials. I think the majority of the league will look at this [as a business opportunity], especially if they use cannabis.

DJ: What does a freedom like this mean for Viola? I know you have Allen Iverson’s line, but are there some things you’ve started to put in motion?

AH: We have some collabs, but I can’t really speak to them yet. We’re working with an iconic actor(and) a very relevant superstar in music, but I really do want to focus on the players. 

DJ: What is the status of the Re+Play partnership you did with the NBAPA? 

AH: We are looking to relaunch Re+Play this summer. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do something around summer league to relaunch the brand.

DJ: Do you foresee the NBA itself doing any types of partnerships or sponsorships with cannabis companies?

AH: 1000%. We’ve already had some preliminary conversations with a couple of different teams. They’re definitely looking at this as an opportunity, so I think sooner than later.

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