Perhaps no other former NBA player has further ingratiated themselves into the cannabis industry than Al Harrington. After launching Viola Extracts Inc. following his retirement, he wanted to show the sports world—and the world writ large—that cannabis “isn’t just about rolling a joint” through a line of wax, resin, and CBD wellness products. He also convinced former NBA commissioner David Stern, who was notoriously anti-marijuana during his tenure, to agree cannabis should be removed from the controlled substances list for basketball players.
But Harrington wasn’t always such a proponent or advocate for cannabis. When he first joined the NBA, in fact, Harrington considered marijuana a gateway drug to more potent substances. But when he saw that other players on his team were using cannabis and still successful, he reconsidered whether the lazy stoner stereotype or marijuana-as-gateway-drug myth that was commonly believed at the time were fact or fiction.
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“When I got to the NBA, it was the first time that I realized that athletes can use cannabis and still be very productive,” Harrington told Bloomberg.
“Some of the best players on my teams were self-medicating all the time, so that’s when I first realized that the stigma wasn’t true.”
He understands, though, the league has to handle any embrace of marijuana delicately. Current NBA Commissioner Adam Silver previously explained that marijuana is a “complicated issue” for the league. Silver worries how it could impact the mental wellness of players as well as what message they’d send to younger fans.
Harrington thinks it could also become a low-hanging fruit for critics and opposing fans.
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“If cannabis goes legal and the NBA says players can consume, if Steph Curry missed 10 threes, everybody’s going to say he’s high,” Harrington said.
Still it encourages Harrington that various sports leagues have reconsidered their previously prohibitionist rhetoric. This year both the NHL and NFL have announced plans to research cannabinoids as a pain management tool for players and whether marijuana could work as a neuroprotectant against traumatic brain injuries.
“I think CBD’s kind of a gateway into sports,” he said. “If the teams in these organizations know what’s best for their players, they should take a deeper dive into the cannabis plant because there’s something there.”