NBA All-Star Game: Former player Al Harrington among those touting benefits of marijuana – USA TODAY

CHICAGO — Former NBA player Al Harrington said his grandmother defiantly told him she’s “not smoking that reefer” the first time he offered her marijuana nine years ago to help treat her glaucoma pain. She identified pot as an illegal drug with a bad reputation. 

Her increased pain led her to try legalized marijuana and she has found solace in cannabis-related remedies – namely concentrates (from butane extraction) – to treat glaucoma and diabetes. That prompted Harrington to found the cannabis extracts company, Viola, named after her.

During the last three years of his 16-year career, Harrington used CBD (cannabidiol), a derivative of marijuana, to treat inflammation from a knee surgery. Now he uses his company’s pre rolls, hemp recovery cream, and live resin (a hash oil). He said he believes NBA players should be able to use cannabis for injury and recovery-related purposes. 

So Harrington sees NBA All-Star weekend in Chicago, which along with the rest of Illinois allows recreational sale and use of marijuana as of Jan. 1, as an ideal time to promote his company and its message. Viola hosted a luxury suite and smoke lounge Saturday and a Sunday brunch. 

“This is an opportunity to raise awareness and a platform where a group of people — entrepreneurs and entertainers —  are all in the same place,” Harrington said. “For my company, where it’s all black and minority ownership, it’s an opportunity to uplift and educate.” 

Illinois became the 11th state to legalize marijuana’s recreational use and the first state to legalize recreational sales by an act of the legislature. Illinois recreational users spent $39.2 million on pot in January according to state officials, causing a shortage of products for companies. Illinois is expected to generate $2 billion to $4 billion in annual revenue, according to a Bloomberg study

“It was important to me that the All-Star weekend is held in a state where cannabis is legal and friendly,” Harrington said. “People’s ideas on cannabis are all perception-driven. The more information that continues to come out, from my company and other companies, the more people are going to realize how (marijuana) can help them. We humanize the plant with sincere stories.” 

Al Harrington, shown in Los Angeles earlier this month, used marijuana during his career to help with knee pain.

Linda Marsicano, media relations director for the Chicago-based marijuana company Green Thumb Industries, said All-Star weekend has a two-fold effect —helping to destigmatize the use of marijuana and drawing business to the city. 

“The stigma of cannabis use is dramatically decreasing,” Marsicano said. “So many people know someone whose quality of life has been dramatically improved by cannabis whether it’s someone with cancer, PTSD, chronic pain or many other conditions. Certainly visiting a state where cannabis is legal allows people to visit a store and learn more about cannabis and ways it can improve their well-being.”