Al Harrington is one of the cannabis industry’s most successful entrepreneurs. Now he plans on turning legal marijuana into generational wealth for Black Americans.
It took Al Harrington almost two days to convince his grandmother to try cannabis. “She got to the point she was in so much pain, she said she's willing to try anything,” Harrington said about his grandmother Viola, who, at the time, was 79 years old and suffered from glaucoma.
“So we checked on her like an hour and a half later,” he continued. “And when I went to go check on her, she was downstairs crying, reading a Bible. She hadn’t read a Bible for over three years.”
A decade later, Al Harrington is firmly planted as one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry. He’s turned 12,000-square-feet in Colorado into one of the nation’s premier cannabis brands. And it’s all thanks to the company’s namesake, a sweet older woman who found relief from cannabis and then turned to the Good Book.
“She’s still with us; she has dementia now, which sucks,” said Harrington about his grandmother Viola, the inspiration behind Viola Brands. “She's a beautiful lady, and I think about the lifestyle that she lived and the woman that she was. I know that she does love the fact that our purpose is really taking over my motivation in this business.”
Harrington’s hard work has begun to pay off. Earlier this month, Viola Brands announced that the company’s cultivation facility in Detriot, Michigan produced its first harvest. It marked the official launch of the facility, bringing to market 10 different premium bud strains, including customer favorites such as ATL, Keylime, Star Dog, Triangle Kush, Vader, and Wifi.
As if that wasn’t enough, the new harvest came just as Viola opened its latest retail location, The Provision Center, right in the heart of Detroit. One success after another proves that Harrington is in the business for the long term.
But Harrington’s been thriving since the start, even as the industry has changed around him. When recreational cannabis killed the caregiver model, he adjusted as needed, keeping things flowing smoothly ever since. And that’s why Harrington plans to continue growing well into the future.
“We are just continually trying to build our brand nationally,” Harrington told The PotNetwork. “The main thing is we found purpose in what we're doing, and you go out. Purpose is all about uplifting, empowering, educating, and creating opportunity for people of color.”
As part of that push to uplift and empower Black communities, Viola Goods announced the kick-off of their limited-edition apparel line, a set of t-shirts, hoodies, and hats that celebrate the Detroit facility and pay respect to the Black Americans murdered by law enforcement. Proceeds from the apparel sales go to both the George Floyd Foundation and the Breonna Taylor Foundation.
“I know that impact these deaths are having, not only on their families but obviously on people around the world that have had to deal with senseless execution by the police,” Harrington said, discussing the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others in the Black community. So what we would like to do is create funding where we can have an impact in the community in different ways.”
That impact includes a wide range of things, from helping to bail out protestors to bringing awareness to police brutality in Black communities. And it also means bringing economic opportunity to communities of color as well.
Al Harrington is far and away one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry. But he’s also one of the few Black entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry, a somber fact considering that not only was legalization built on the promise of social equity, but the legal cannabis industry has benefitted from the Black communities harmed by the War on Drugs.
“The way it's set up now a lot of these opportunities that are presented to people of color, especially with social equity programs, they are always leaving them open to predatory investors,” Harrington told The PotNetwork.
So he has a plan to change that. Last month he announced that he would make 100 Black individuals millionaires in the cannabis industry through an incubator that will turn illegitimate products mainstream. Speaking with him in more detail, he said that he hopes to bring people the funding they need and the tools to help them lay a foundation to operate their businesses for years to come.
“I really feel like what's at stake in this for us, it's really generational wealth,” said Harrington.
As Harrington put it, Black Americans are owed some type of reparations for how they’ve been treated concerning cannabis. All one has to do is listen to a white person discuss their relationship with weed to see the racial disparity, he said.
“[White people] brag about how much weed they sold to get through college, and not having debt and driving a Lamborghini when they’re 20 years old,” Harrington said, relaying the relative ease at which white America has survived throughout the drug war.
“And then the stories from the black community are all about how we have been arrested,” he continued.
Harrington wants to see the Black community move to the next level in the cannabis industry. As he told The PotNetwork, many people who work in a gray area may bring in revenues around $200,000 to $500,000, but then don’t have the resources to apply for a license. He’s hoping that with initiatives like his incubator, and his support, he can help bring some of these brands national.
Education is a significant part of his plan too, which is why Harrington is working with several Historical Black Colleges and Universities to set up programs that give entrepreneurs a foot in the door at the ground level. There he wants to teach younger entrepreneurs how to enter the cannabis industry from all verticals — growing, testing, packaging, media, and more.
“There are all these different hurdles that I feel like Black people have to deal with, you know just to be able to go to gain attention to take advantage of the opportunities,” lamented Harrington. “But what I would like to do between my resources, my life, my distribution is to be able to take these people from great marketing business to legal, legitimate businesses.”
Viola, the namesake of one of the cannabis industry’s most successful brands, was, by all accounts, a strong Black woman. Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, she had seven children — five of which she gave birth to on her own with no help, according to Harrington — and loved to cook. When her husband died, she never remarried, dedicating herself instead to the Lord.
And when the company that bore her name began to do well, Al Harrington would call his grandmother to share his achievements with her.
“Every time I would call her and share in some of the successes we had, she would always say ‘you’re sure I’m not going to go to jail, right?’”