Former pro-baller Al Harrington is continuing his mission to bring smoke out of the shadows in the NBA.
After 16 years bruising opponents in the paint and sinking threes for seven different NBA teams, Al Harrington was ready for a new challenge. For the past four years, Harrington has dedicated himself to cannabis, both personally and professionally. The former Golden State Warrior and Denver Nugget is now the proprietor of Viola Extracts, a Colorado-based extracts company, as well as a legalization activist and the basketball universe's most vocal proponent of cannabis policy reform in the NBA.
In a new essay for the Players' Tribune, "9 Reasons to End the War on Marijuana," Harrington recounts childhood memories of America's racially-charged War on Drugs hitting home in his Orange, New Jersey public housing projects, where police used weed to imprison friends and neighbors. Harrington also discusses avoiding the plant throughout his entire playing career, until injuries were too much to bare.
Since discovering the wonders of CBD and THC in the years after his NBA career ended in 2014, Harrington has turned his focus towards normalizing the all-natural medicine and integrating the wonder-drug into professional athletes' pain treatment.
Harrington brought cannabis from the NBA's fringe to its forefront late last year, when a short documentary for LeBron James' Uninterrupted, produced by and starring Harrington, sparked a wave of reaction from players, coaches, and officials — with most agreeing that the NBA should, sometime in the near future, reconsider the league's substance abuse policy and begin researching the benefits of medical marijuana.
Even with the league-wide ban still in effect and continued drug testing representing a persistent threat of fines and suspension, Harrington estimates that "70-80%" of players in the league break the rules and use cannabis, especially during the off-season.
"These guys are NBA superstars," Harrington wrote. "It's not the last dude on the bench who's on his couch getting high. These are global icons — leaders, teammates, parents, citizens. These are world-class athletes, man. They've got pain and stress and anxiety and all the things any human has. The NBA has never been more skilled or more fun to watch."
Still, no matter how many NBA players get lit behind closed doors, or how many retired players come out of the woodwork to offer soundbites about medical cannabis, the league's policy has yet to change. Plus, Harrington says the NBA has an unspoken affair with alcohol, with some players drinking every night just to sleep properly or shake post-game nerves.
"I won't say names, but in my 16 years in the league, I knew of at least 10 or 12 players who had their careers cut short due to alcohol," Harrington writes. "It either affected them physically or mentally, but one way or another, alcohol shortened their careers. No judgment from me, just facts. We all should be honest. It's well known how liquor can destroy lives. But we're still out here demonizing cannabis while alcohol is promoted at sporting events? It all starts with some honesty."
As professional athletes across all disciplines continue to use their public platform to advocate for social progress, Harrington expertly weaves sports into the larger fight to end cannabis prohibition. In addition to his calls for reform in the NBA, Harrington admonished Attorney General Jeff Sessions' anti-cannabis crusade and endorsed Senator Cory Booker's proposed Marijuana Justice Act. At the end of the essay, he left readers with a simple question about how we perceive cannabis use.
"Is cannabis ruining these athletes' lives? Or are our laws and ideas behind the times?"
We'll take option B for all the chips, Al.
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