Former National Basketball Association player turned cannabis entrepreneur Al Harrington is launching an incubator program for 100 Black individuals to enter the industry, CNBC reports. Harrington, CEO of Viola Brands, said he wanted to turn black market brands into legitimate businesses.
“A lot of brands that are on the black market that has a lot of credibility and unbelievable following, have market share, but they just don’t know how to get into the legal market.” – Harrington to CNBC
Harrington has advocated for diversity in the industry and recently said he would donate 20,000 CBD topical creams to protestors suffering from chronic pain at the request of Stephen Jackson, who is also a former NBA player. Jackson has emerged as a key figure during the protests seeking justice for the killing of his friend George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
“That is something I will continue to harp on; continue to bring awareness to because once again, I feel like the war on drugs was aimed towards our community, and they used cannabis as pretty much the main drug to continue to lock us up,” Harrington said in the interview. “All this money being made now, we’re not represented; we’re not there. I feel like we pioneered this industry.”
It’s well known that the leadership of U.S. cannabis companies are predominately white and – while not representative of the industry at-large – a recent study focused on Maryland’s industry found just 10 percent of investors in the state’s cannabis companies are people of color. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission report found that there was no sector of the state’s cannabis industry where women of color comprise more than 5 percent of investors.
White men comprise two-thirds of all cannabis investors in Maryland, followed by white women, men of color, and women of color. Of the 26 Maryland companies licensed to cultivate or process cannabis, just four – HMS Health, Seven Points Agro, Kind Therapeutics, and Chesapeake Alternatives – are majority-owned by women or people of color, according to state data. Only Seven Points and HMS Health are entirely owned by people of color. Pro Green Medical is the only other company in the state where more than 30 percent ownership is held by people of color.
Harrington’s Viola closed a $16 million Series A funding round last October.
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