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All-Star Trio: Isiah Thomas, John Salley And Al Harrington Want To Change The Cannabis Game

·5 min read

Talk about a legendary lineup.

Today's Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference featured a slate of former NBA stars, each discussing their shared passions for — no, not basketball — cannabis.

Isiah Thomas, John Salley and Al Harrington sat down with Yahoo Finance reporter Alexis Keenan for Monday's virtual event. The lively discussion wasn't without jest.

"I haven't been a THC user like some of my players and teammates," Thomas said, to which his son, fellow Isiah International co-founder Joshua Thomas, replied with a laugh: "Sitting right next to me."

But make no mistake: Each of these entrepreneurs take the cannabis industry very seriously, especially when it comes to addressing the role CBD plays in health care, and the social inequities that hinder the sector's potential in certain markets.

Zeke's Tale

The chairman and CEO of Isiah International LLC did a fine job summarizing what this trio has to offer the space:

"The CBD and CBG oils that we put out really help, not only to control pain and inflammation, which —you know — Al, John and I are familiar with as athletes," Thomas said. "Pain and inflammation are the things that really hamper you during your play, and after your play, as we all know."

Thomas was a 12-time NBA All-Star and two-time NBA champion with the Detroit Pistons from 1981-1994.

VESL Oils, which Thomas invested in this year, has a suite of products that encompass an innovative endocannabinoid system that can be used to bolster health in various way, Thomas explained.

"That was really, for myself, very enlightening and all three of our companies focus on that," he added.

Since retiring, Thomas has displayed his business savvy across various industries, including real estate, champagne imports, waste removal and entertainment.

"My business expertise is startups and turnarounds," he said. But it was cannabis that grabbed his attention in a unique way.

"I thought there was a nich there in the CBD space that I can fully speak to and become one of the dominant players in the health space... working with some of the major manufacturers and hospitals," Thomas said.

See Also: Pistons 'Bad Boy' John Salley Talks 'The Last Dance' And His Relationship With Michael Jordan

Salley's Story

Like Thomas, Salley swore off cannabis when the two were teammates in Detroit. Fast forward 30 years, and the scenario has changed — at least for Salley.

Both Thomas and Salley are fans of the "magic flower" and are company leaders in the market.

"I was on a team with a leader who was straight-laced," Salley said of Thomas. "And if he can be that great and didn't need any, I felt, supplements at the time then that was always the way I was raised and that's how I was going to go."

The same can't be said for the other Pistons players.

"We found out when we retired, that we were on a team full of guys who did medicate with cannabis," Salley added with a chuckle. "I waited until I was 36 years to wake up to the strength of this wonderful plant."

Salley played on four NBA championship teams, his most notable run coming with the Pistons from 1986-1992.

Salley's company, Deuces22, is now making waves in the industry offering what Salley's daughter, Tyla — also a guest on the panel — calls "clean accessible cannabis for all."

The startup, which is currently on the hunt for venture capital, offers an "educational platform as well."

"We're really, really passionate about getting everyone what they need, wherever they need it, at the highest quality standards," Tyla said. 

Salley also gave credit to Harrington and admitted to following his lead and expertise.

"Every time Al makes a move, we make a move right behind Al," Salley said, referring to Harrington as the "OG."

Al's Account

Harrington's journey in the cannabis space begins with his grandmother, Viola.

Her glaucoma and diabetes symptoms were alleviated only after she switched from prescription pills to cannabis remedies, he said.

Seeing Viola read her Bible for the "first time in three years" changed everything for the former Indiana Pacers star, who would go on to launch "Viola" the brand in 2011.

The company started in Colorado and has since expanded to Oregon, Michigan and California. Harrington expects Viola to have a presence in six states by the end of the year.

"We are the biggest black-owned multi-state operator in the country," he said. 

Viola, backed by Gotham Green Partners, recently purchased a 34,500-square-foot cultivation, processing and distribution facility in Adelanto, California. It also completed a deal for a 48,000-square-foot facility in Detroit.

But Viola's mission goes beyond producing CBD products.

"We're a cannabis lifestyle brand with purpose," Harrington said. "Our purpose is all about uplifting and empowering people of color."

Thomas and Salley share the same sentiment, citing the ongoing effort to teach others about "how to take advantage of the opportunities in the cannabis space."

"At the end of the day, the three people sitting on this call, right now, we're trailblazing," Harrington said. "We're pioneers in this space and this industry is just getting started."

Click here for more on Benzinga's Cannabis Capital Conference.

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