Former NBA player Al Harrington may have made a name for himself on the basketball court, but he’s now using his platform to raise awareness about the critical need to legalize, decriminalize and destigmatize marijuana.
An outspoken supporter of California’s Proposition 64, a pivotal and transformative piece of legislation, Harrington began his work where his heart is—with his grandmother.
“What made me change my opinion of the cannabis plant was because of my grandmother’s story,” Harrington says in an exclusive interview with The Root. “My grandmother suffered from glaucoma and she also has diabetes. I got her to try it pretty much on a whim, just from me seeing things on TV and different things like that, and people talking about the relief that it gives.
Although Harrington had witnessed marijuana enrich his grandmother’s life, it took a serious illness for him to experience the health benefits of the plant for himself.
“In 2011 I was sending my grandmother cannabis that she needed just to give her relief, and the next year I ended up with a meniscus tear that led to a staph infection,” Harrington says. “When I had my fourth surgery, I was in Vail, Colo., and my cousin introduced me to cannabinoids, and from that point forward, I’ve never taken another Vicodin or anti-inflammatory pill.
“Whenever you say marijuana, I think everybody thinks of a blunt or a joint rolled up, someone sitting down smoking,” Harrington continues. “But because of the market, in some of these states, like Colorado, there are so many different ways that you can consume it. You can consume it through edibles. You can consume it through pill form, just like how pharmaceuticals do it. You have creams. It’s important that people understand it and get that stigma off of marijuana.”
That stigma, exacerbated and maintained by the so-called war on drugs, has led to detrimental and long-lasting effects on the most vulnerable and marginalized black and Latinx communities in the United States. Police departments are addicted to drug money, and the prison-industrial complex leeches onto black and brown bodies for its survival.
As Al continues to voice his opinion and push forward the movement; he plans to become a larger presence in the cannabis industry but is still weighing his options on what exactly his role will be.
“I’m looking at different opportunities,” he says. “There are so many ways to be in the business without even touching the plant, but I do eventually want to cultivate and manufacture. And I’d like to be able to hire people that are coming home, who have been locked up because of this nonsense.
“Right now, though,” Harrington continues, “my focus is on raising awareness and telling my story, my grandmother’s story, just so people can give marijuana an opportunity.”