How Al Harrington Is Helping Build a Black-Owned Weed Industry
African Americans are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis possession. While both groups use drugs at similar rates, the imprisonment rate of Black people for drug charges is almost six times higher than their white counterparts. Harrington is determined to give back to minority communities. “We don’t want to be sitting here, making all this money with people still suffering,” he says.
Harrington has always wanted to make a difference; he founded an eponymous charity in 2007 with the objective of providing essential items to families in need. Viola was launched as a socially driven brand, he says: “We had to figure out in what ways or partnerships we can give back in a meaningful way.”
That conscientiousness translated to a philanthropic initiative called Viola Cares, which aims to help formerly incarcerated people transition back into society, working with the non-profit advocacy group Root & Rebound.
“Our goal is to dismantle the collateral consequences that come with having a criminal record,” says Eliana Green, an Equal Justice Works Fellow at Root & Rebound. The group takes a three-pronged approach by providing legal services, working to change drug policy, and public education. “Once we get good laws passed, in order for people to benefit from them, they have to know what their rights are,” says Green. Through the Viola Cares partnership, Root & Rebound created a toolkit designed specifically for people imprisoned for marijuana offenses, titled “A New Leaf: A ‘How-To Guide’ for Successful Reentry After A Cannabis Conviction.”
“It’s a compact know-your-rights guide,” says Green. “We have an employment chapter, where we give people the lay of the land of the cannabis industry. There’s a chapter on probation, parole, housing, all the types of things you might need.” There’s also a chapter to assist people with drug convictions in cleaning up criminal records. The toolkit is available to download for free on the Root & Rebound website; the non-profit also offers virtual clinics to those with a conviction history.