Retired NBA player Al Harrington recently penned a telling pro-marijuana tale for The Players’ Tribune, which spans the athlete’s formative years to his almost two decade long career playing professional basketball for some of the greatest teams in the world. In the piece, the former Indiana Pacer talks about what it was like growing up in the oppressive neighborhood of Orange, New Jersey, where he was constantly harassed at the hands of police on a hell bent mission to bust kids for marijuana.
“I came up during the War on Drugs. I didn’t know what it was called. But I knew what I saw,” Harrington wrote. “Almost every week, at some time or another, a police car would roll up to the corner. If there was a group of young black men standing on a corner, it was only a matter of time.
“That was just normal for us,” he continued. “We’d be chilling outside and the police would get out and make everyone empty their pockets. They’d search us, make us stand against the wall, the whole routine. “Who got drugs? Show me the drugs.” But me and my friends never had any. I never messed with marijuana when I was a kid. I knew my mom would kill me if that ever happened. But no lie, I never got used to those searches. I was like 12 years old, man — that shit was scary. Sirens are going off and you’re being searched by dudes with guns. It’s crazy — I always felt like I was doing something wrong even though I wasn’t.”
Harrington, an active member of the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), then goes on to detail “9 Reasons to End the War on Marijuana,” which include racial disparity in marijuana arrests, the almost $4 billion cost to continue enforcing antiquated pot laws, and the need for alternative treatments for patients suffering from pain.
It is on the medical level where Harrington found relief with marijuana. He says a non-intoxicating form of the plant known as cannabidiol changed his life by helping him manage his pain after back surgery without the continued use prescription drugs.
“For me, cannabis changed my experience with pain,” he wrote. “It has worked better, with fewer side effects, than anything I’ve gotten from a doctor. To this day, at 37, after 16 years in the NBA and back surgery and all the miles on my body, I’m still playing ball every week in L.A. Meet me out there. Afternoon runs Tuesday and Thursday. You don’t want none of this!”
The piece also touches on an issue that Harrington would like to see getting more attention: alcohol abuse in the NBA. Because of strict anti-drug policies, he says players often gravitate toward the use of alcohol to help them cope with the lifestyle. Many of them use this socially acceptable inebriant to combat “anxiety and stress,” he explains.
And these bouts of self-medicating eventually kill their careers.
“I knew of at least 10 or 12 players who had their careers cut short due to alcohol,” Harrington wrote. “It either affected them physically or mentally, but one way or another, alcohol shortened their careers.”
Overall, the message behind the 37-year-old’s story is simple: The time has come for the federal government to pull the cannabis plant out of the pits of prohibition and allow the nation to reap the benefits.
To make this happen, sooner rather than later, Harrington is urging the young progressive minds of the nation get into politics and make marijuana legalization one of their primary issues.
“You could win on that issue alone, I really believe that,” he wrote. “Because it’s not just about legalization, it’s about addressing racism, policing, the prison system, sentencing laws — all of that. Decriminalizing marijuana is one of those issues that cuts across party lines.”
Al Harrington recently got involved with the cannabis industry. Last year, he co-founded Viola Extracts, which produces non-psychoactive shatter, wax and live resins. He reportedly invested $3.5 million of his own money getting the company off the ground.