Marijuana mogul Al Harrington on suspension of NBA drug testing, coronavirus and impact on his cannabis business
Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported on Monday that the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association agreed thatduring its shutdown. (A source close to the deal confirmed to CBS Sports that the league is suspending drug testing.) The news caught the attention of Al Harrington, who played in the NBA for 16 years and now runs a cannabis company called Viola, which opened its first dispensary four months ago in Detroit.
Harrington, 40, is optimistic about how things will develop in his new industry, but he was concerned about overreacting to the temporary change in his old industry. When the new NFL policy on marijuana was reported last month, he “got around DM 70 from players, then a few texts,” Harrington said, “simply saying,” When will it be our turn? When are they going to stop checking us out or put us in the program on it. “But then he saw that the NFL could still fine players for up to three weeks of their pay, depending on how many times they were positive.
“It’s kind of a step in the right direction, but it’s not the real win that all players want, I think,” said Harrington.
Likewise, Harrington does not come forward with the NBA. He believes the league is not running drug tests during this time for logistical reasons – it would be foolish to send testers to players’ homes right now – and he is not predicting that he will. There will be a grace period for cannabis to exit player systems if the 2019-20 season resumes.
“I don’t think they’re doing it for something that is beneficial to the players, to have access to anything, if that makes sense,” said Harrington.
In an interview with CBS Sports over the phone, Harrington explained how he and his company are handling the pandemic, his advocacy work and more. The following questions and answers have been condensed and slightly edited for clarity and fluidity.
CBS Sports: The news about the coronavirus is only getting worse, and yet we are seeing videos of people in Florida hanging out at the beach. How are you dealing with everything at the moment?
Al Harrington: I process it in real time. I can be honest I was one of those people – like, Stephon Marbury is a good friend of mine and he was living in China when this all happened and then he obviously came to the US for s ‘away from it and obviously had his finger on the pulse the whole time because he’s a head coach there. And he told me it was way more serious than our government and [President Donald] Trump and everyone were actually playing it. So I was probably like those people who were still sitting on the beach today, like, “Oh, we’ve had these problems before and it’s never been so bad.” But that’s the only time this one is really serious. I’m just relying on it. Just lifestyle changes. Like, wash my hands All the time. I’ve always washed my hands, but I’ve never washed them so much. I didn’t walk around with hand sanitizer. I didn’t hit people when I saw them, even the family.
But that’s the seriousness of it. And there’s still a lot of information they’re still trying to figure out about this virus, to know if it’s something that we can just quarantine for a few weeks and be able to slow it down or if it’s going to take us three months. , six months. So this anxiety is very real, just kind of unknown. But I hope the folks in the lives of these young people in Miami partying let them know, like, “Take your ass home, wash your hands and let’s take this thing seriously so that we can get past that and go back to normal life. ”
You started using cannabis for pain management. In your life, has it been good for dealing with anxiety and stress as well?
AH: Man, the cannabis has been awesome. Forget good. I mean, it’s funny, I’m on Day 5 at home with my kids in my 40s. If I didn’t have cannabis, I would probably be hanging from my roof right now. Do you know what I’m saying? So I think cannabis can be used in so many amazing ways. And being able to relax and calm down, slow your life down a bit sometimes, for people struggling with anxiety, recovery, pain, there are many ways people can benefit from having access to cannabis. It’s a trip, isn’t it? The first time I tried cannabis it was a bad experience, but thank goodness I was willing to try it again to find the right strains that I love, the right strengths of CBD and THC that allow me to function at an optimal level in my life.
How have you been over the past five days for your business?
AH: It’s a challenge. I mean, obviously we work, a lot of conference calls, make phone calls with our department, go through different things. Obviously at a time like this you would expect cannabis sales to increase, which has been the case in places like California. But I just got a text two minutes before I called you saying the city of Detroit just closed all the dispensaries. So now we can’t distribute any product and we expect that to happen probably everywhere.
So it’s going to be a tough time for all of us business owners in all sectors of the world right now. Cannabis is certainly going to be hit as hard as any other industry, and we have to find a way to keep the lights on and keep moving this time around. My goal is to be able to continue paying all of my employees during this time, which will be a challenge, but it’s something we’ll try to do. We just have to find out every day. There are going to be a lot of phone calls over the next few weeks.
I saw in Massachusetts the dispensaries kept open, but you can’t navigate. There is an argument that with people using it for medical reasons, they should stay open.
AH: For me, it’s like it’s a pharmacy. Are you going to close all pharmacies? No, we can’t. So I think they have to find a way to keep the doors open, and maybe have rules of no more than two people in a clinic at a time or something. But I beg them to allow us to continue running our business because in cannabis alone we have all kinds of challenges. A lot of times we don’t have access to these business loans and stuff because, you know, cannabis is still illegal federally across the country. So I just hope that before making these decisions, they will keep that in mind.
In response to COVID-19, Ohio is releasing low-level offenders, including drug-addicted offenders, out of jail. As more and more states are doing, does this help with the advocacy work you do?
AH: Yeah absolutely. I mean, they have to change these laws. They must allow these people to erase these files, allow them to reintegrate into society and not have to continue to suffer from an offense which is now legal. Right now it’s a billion dollar industry. Not only are sellers making money, but states are making money, making between $ 300 million and $ 500 million in tax revenue from this factory and this opportunity. So yes, we have to find a way to right the wrongs of these people who have suffered for so long. And one of the main ways is, I think, erasure. This is essential, it is huge because we have to allow these people to re-enter the labor market and become ordinary citizens.
How much time do you spend on it? What is going on in the advocacy part of your life?
AH: I do it everyday. Part of my day, every day, has something to do with my advocacy or my social equity. And the way I do it, it’s interviews like this, isn’t it? To always be able to talk about it, to make it a subject, something that people cannot get around. Like, we cannot forget the people who have suffered to get us to this point in this industry. We just can’t do it, and I’m not going to allow it to happen. I’m going to talk about this until I’m probably in the grave because I think that’s the kind of work it’s going to take before it really changes.
David Stern told you that he thinks the NBA could potentially “lead the way” in terms of removing marijuana from the banned substance list. Now you can argue that the league is slow. Do you think there is still an opportunity to lead?
AH: The NBA can still be the first league to just say it’s no longer testing, period. [Note: The NHL tests, but doesn’t punish.] Like, they’re going to be done with that, if a player chooses to use, he just has to use responsibly, the same way he has access to alcohol. If you drink alcohol, you come to the game drunk, you are in trouble. You’re not going to play this game, you’re going to be put into the program, all of the above. And I think it’s the same with a player who has cannabis. If a player abuses the opportunity and they are not in their frame of mind to be able to play that night, then you penalize them for it.
I think when you think of athletes in general we are very proud. And we know we have to be the best we can be when we go out there and compete because the guys we play with are the best in the world. And I just don’t see guys getting high or getting drunk – which we don’t already – then come out and try to play at a high level. I just think we need to give athletes more credit and understand that a lot of players are using it to recover. Even the stress of the world, anxiety. I know so many guys who use it just so they can calm down and deal with a lot of issues that they have to face in their life.