Former New York Knick Al Harrington was back in the Big Apple for the Revelry event on August 28 at Restoration Plaza in Brooklyn. Harrington's Knick career spanned two seasons (2008-2010). In the 2008-2009 season, the 6-foot-9 forward peaked with a 20 point average. In 2010, he signed a two-year deal with the Denver Nuggets. During that time, Denver had decriminalized cannabis and advocates were pushing Amendment 64, which voters passed in 2012, legalizing it. That's when Harrington decided he was going to be part of the nascent industry.
Naming the company after his grandmother, who suffered from glaucoma, Viola Brands got its start in Denver and has expanded into a national brand thanks to Harrington's celebrity and upbeat approach. "I make this look easy because I can always put a smile on my face," he told the Revelry crowd gathered under a tent. "But I'm trying to survive."
Here are more highlights from Harrington's conversation with On the Revel's Jacobi Holland:
How Cannabis Brings People Together
When I played against Paul Pierce I hated his fucking guts. I wish he died until we smoked weed together. Now he's my man.
When we started, help was not readily available. We had to do it on our own. We had a lot of ups and downs. We got robbed, we had bugs, we had regulatory issues. There was always something. But we never quit, never gave up. We've been able to build this business so hopefully we can be in 10 states by the end of 2020. It's been a journey, man. I'm not going to say this shit is easy. This is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.
"When I played against Paul Pierce I hated his guts. I wish he died, until we smoked weed together. Now he's my man."
Until we have safe banking and we can conduct business like everybody else, these challenges are always going to be there. The competitors don't want this to be inclusive for us. They say that shit, but that's not what they really mean. They want it to be inclusive to the point that they buy us out for pennies on the dollar. We have to always be conscious of that.
"This industry moves at a thousand miles a minute."
Social Equity, New York-Style
We don't have the resources. We don't have multiple million dollars to go lock down real estate. It puts us in a bad position where we've got to sign some of those predatory deals. What I like about New York is they're supposed to come up with a lot of the funding for social-equity applicants. This is a real equitable opportunity.
The competitors don't want this to be inclusive for us. They say that, but that's not what they really mean."
The Garden State
I'm from New Jersey, so we've got to figure out how to participate there. We have some retail opportunities, some partnerships for cultivation and manufacturing. New York, of course, is very very attractive to everybody. We plan on applying here to hopefully get vertically intergrated if it's possible, But if not, then retail and whatever's afforded to us.
"This is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life."
Staying on the Cutting Edge
It's all about being innovative, trying to see what's next. How can we push packaging? How can we push the look and feel? How can we push billboards and whatever opportunities that present themselves to us? We started with jars. But now bags dominate. Everybody likes the coolness of the way they look, so now we're going to bags. We've got some cool bags... You can't get stale. This industry moves at a thousand miles a minute. Things are always changing. Jars might be back in two years.
"We got robbed, we had bugs, we had regulatory issues. There was always something. But we never quit, never gave up."
Making Moves in the 'Hood
It's going to happen. And when it does happen we don't want it to be the same thing that happened with the liquor stores and the corner bodegas. We don't own any of it.
Don't grow too fast. Take your time. Lock in what you're doing until you get to the next project.
Harrington headlined the "Cannabis Summit" portion of Revelry. It was followed by the "Block Party" featuring Dead Prez, Styles P, Smoke Dza and Mumu Fresh.