Sports: Building the Bud: How NBA Vets are affectingthe Marijuana deabte
Viola Harrington couldn’t take it anymore. Even the backbone of a family has a breaking point. She was in pain. And it was hard for her to see.
Her story, part of a recently released campaign in support of Proposition 64, which would legalize marijuana in California for recreational use — and is expected to win in a landslide vote Nov. 8— revolves around the pressure on Harrington’s eyes, a painful condition brought on by glaucoma. Her grandson is former NBA forward Al Harrington — and when he saw her nearly weeping from pain at his kitchen table, he made an unorthodox suggestion — at least unorthodox for a grandson and his grandmother. Perhaps she should try getting high.
Al Harrington, 30 at the time and in his first season with the Denver Nuggets, had heard the talk around the city. It was 2011, and Colorado was moving toward legalization of marijuana. The state’s medical program was already happening.
“Boy, I ain’t smokin’ no marijuana!” That’s what Viola Harrington shot back.
“She just went in,” said Al Harrington with a laugh. “So I’m like, ‘Aight, Grandma.’ Whatever.”
The next day Grandma Harrington was back at the kitchen table, her face again buried in her hands. The pain was nearly nauseating. Her grandson had done the research. There was a strain of cannabis called “Vietnam Kush” that reportedly helped with vision issues. Al Harrington explained the benefits. Viola Harrington expressed her concerns.
But eventually, she agreed. Al Harrington had a friend vaporize the kush. Viola Harrington smoked it in her grandson’s garage. Afterward, he walked her back to her room and let her lie down. An hour-and-a-half later, he checked on her. “I haven’t,” she said, “been able to read the words in my Bible in over three years.” Her tears of joy became his. Her eye pain, according to Al Harrington and his grandmother, greatly subsided. From that moment, he began an even deeper dive into the medical benefits of marijuana.
The following year was Al Harrington’s second and most impressive season with the Nuggets. He posted 14.2 points and 6.1 rebounds a night on what was then the highest scoring team in the NBA. Harrington tore his meniscus at the end of the regular season, leaving his playoff availability in jeopardy. He fought through the pain and helped the Nuggets nearly escape with a first round upset of Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nuggets lost in seven games.
“This is not going to change the presence of marijuana in your community or all of a sudden lead to an industry. That industry is here already.” — John Hudak
Following the playoff exit, he had surgery, and the effects of it left him “sick as a dog.” Due to a staph infection, his leg had to be “cleaned out” three times over the course of a week. Following another clean-out of his leg in Vail, Colorado, later that summer, Al Harrington was being introduced to cannabinoids (CBDs). Sick of Vicodin and other pain meds he’d ingested over the course of his career, Al Harrington — like his grandmother a year earlier — figured, “Why not?” He gave the black oil pill a shot. It’s a popular CBD that reportedly helps with pain relief and reduces inflammation.
“I felt good,” said Al Harrington. “When you’re playing, you obviously can’t jump out there and say you’re doing all that type of stuff. But I’m living proof that you can manage pain without all the pharmaceuticals. You do have an alternative method to take care of yourself. And, to me, [it’s] a more natural way.”
Al Harrington is far from alone.
Marijuana is legal in some form in 25 states plus Washington, D.C. Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and D.C. have legalized recreational use of marijuana. Projections forecast that the infant industry could be valued at $44 billion by 2020 — a figure in the neighborhood of Panama and Serbia’s entire gross domestic products. Per the Marijuana Business Factbook 2016, recreational and medicinal sales, coupled with tangential products and services, could potentially place the industry’s annual revenue eye to eye with Fortune 500 conglomerates such as FedEx and Lockheed Martin.
Simply put, the United States loves its loud.
The trend-turned-full-fledged tidal wave of support has been aided, in part, via its commonplace in pop culture. Ice Cube and Chris Tucker, Dave Chappelle, Method Man and Redman and Seth Rogen have created weed-centered cult classics — 1995’s Friday,1998’s Half Baked, 2001’s How High and 2008’s Pineapple Express, respectively. Dr. Dre’s 1992 The Chronic, perhaps the most influential rap album of all time, is an homage to marijuana, and the LP’s very title is one of Mary Jane’s most recognizable nicknames. Artists such as Snoop Dogg, Bob Marley and Willie Nelson’s careers are as tied to the plant as much as their own discographies. And there’s no greater celebratory day in cannabis culture than April 20, affectionately known as “4:20.”
Yet, the history of the policing of marijuana is ugly, debilitating and from its very inception, racially motivated. What J. Edgar Hoover was to Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panthers, Harry Anslinger (1892-1975) was to marijuana. A former railroad cop, Prohibition agent and law-and-order evangelist, Anslinger was named America’s first drug czar in 1930, a year into the Great Depression. He quickly began using race as a trump card in his quest to outlaw marijuana — a plant many, including the men in Congress, knew little about.
“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men,” Anslinger said. “The primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races … most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and many others.”