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LA’s Social Equity Program A ‘Complete Disaster,’ Says NBA Vet, Cannabis Pro Al Harrington

California’s social equity program was designed to assist entrepreneurs hoping to enter the legal cannabis market while simultaneously helping communities that were disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

But according to former NBA star Al Harrington, the program in Los Angeles can’t get its act together.

“Social equity here has been a complete disaster,” Harrington said. “And I hope that every state that thinks about implementing social equity [looks] at California as what not to do first.”

Harrington made the comments during the weekly Benzinga Cannabis Hour with Benzinga’s Patrick Lane and Jason Raznick.

Viola’s Long California Licensing Effort

Since retiring from the National Basketball Association, wrapping up 16 seasons with various franchises including the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks, Harrington has become a major voice in the cannabis industry.

He’s now at the helm of Viola, a company he launched in 2014 on the heels of buying a 12,000-square-foot warehouse in Denver. These days, his focus is on California, where Viola is working with social equity applicants. Six licenses are pending, and the process to get them approved has been a long one.

“Over two years now, they have been saying they’re going to start issuing licenses and they still haven’t done it,” Harrington said. “It’s really a disaster.”

Applicants went so far as to refinance their homes in order to “lock in real estate for this opportunity,” he said.

Cannabis Opportunities For People Of Color

The program has received criticism before. It was intended to help low-income individuals — especially those who have past cannabis arrests and or convictions. In late 2019, the California Minority Alliance published a report that said the licensing system was riddled with error messages and glitches, with fewer than 100 licenses issued in the first round.

During the interview, Harrington elaborated on becoming a voice for the African American community by increasing industry participation.

Harrington said he not only “has a seat at the table,” but — as a celebrity — can be “the loudest” voice as well.

“I can spend $4 million of my own money without investors … and I still have an issue raising money,” he said.