Equity

Collaboration aims to benefit social justice, expungement

By Willis Jacobson Sep 20, 2020
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Willis Jacobson is an award-winning journalist whose career has spanned both coasts. Now based on the Central Coast of California, he has covered cannabis news and issues since 2015.
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Willis Jacobson is an award-winning journalist whose career has spanned both coasts. Now based on the Central Coast of California, he has covered cannabis news and issues since 2015.
See my articles
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As a social equity licensee in Los Angeles’s competitive cannabis market, Chris Ball readily admits he leaned on a lot of people for help to get his Ball Family Farms operation off the ground.

As someone who had never acquired a commercial property, undergone a building inspection or done many of the tasks it takes to launch a business, Ball said the support he received was invaluable.

Now, with the help of a former NBA player, Ball wants to pay it forward.

Ball has teamed with Al Harrington, who spent 17 years as a pro basketball player before launching Viola Brands, for a special promotion that will coincide with National Expungement Week. Ball and Harrington will offer their newly created strain “Reign” in select California dispensaries beginning this weekend, with $1 from each purchase slated to be donated to the Root & Rebound nonprofit.

Root and Rebound provides a range of support services for people and communities most harmed by mass incarceration as a result of the War on Drugs – an issue near and dear to both Ball and Harrington.

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“We want to change the trajectory of people’s lives,” Ball said.

Root & Rebound, which started six years ago, is comprised of a team of lawyers that supports low-income communities, and other communities of color, through legal advocacy, public education, policy reform and litigation. The organization, which is headquartered in Oakland, Calif., reports that it has provided direct legal support to more than 5,500 system-impacted individuals on more than 6,500 legal matters.

It aims to help people re-enter the workforce without the burden of a criminal record.

That mission is in line with the heart of National Expungement Week, which began two years ago to advocate for automated expungement of certain drug-related records, de-escalation of police enforcement, and investment in marginalized communities.

Harrington said he felt it just made sense to throw his support behind Root & Rebound, an organization he said is moving “society toward greater racial and economic equity, justice, collective liberation and intergenerational healing.” He said he had similar motivations when he launched Viola Brands.

“Root & Rebound was a perfect fit to our overall goal [at Viola], which is to help communities of color who have historically been the victims of cannabis-related incarceration and who have fallen on hard times, and turn those struggles into opportunities for success within this rapidly growing industry,” Harrington said.

“To hear some of these stories of their staff who have previously faced incarceration due to non-violent drug offenses is important to me because those firsthand experiences more adequately inform and shape initiatives this organization creates – all to help folks who share that same story,” he added.

Ball expressed a similar sentiment.

He, like Harrington, is Black and noted that Black communities don’t typically provide the best training for entering the business world.

Ball said he was grateful he was able to attend Cal Berkeley, where he played football. It was because of that experience in higher education, he said, that he was able to learn some of the things – and, perhaps even more importantly, make some of the connections – that ultimately helped him launch his vertically-integrated cannabis operation.

He’s aware, however, that his experience isn’t the norm.

“I’m kind of a unicorn when it comes to this stuff,” he said. “A lot of those people who have these social equity licenses, a lot of them aren’t educated [at a university] and we don’t have these types of resources in our culture or community.”

The “Reign” strain at the center of the fundraising campaign is an Indica that was developed at Ball’s farm.

The business owners initially wanted to call it “Purple Reign” – Viola’s branding is mostly purple – but they received a letter from the estate of the late Prince, who made “Purple Rain” famous as both an album/song and movie, requesting that they not.

“That was still nice, just to hear from his estate,” Ball said, laughing.

Ball and Harrington said they were hopeful their efforts would inspire others.

“It is our responsibility as Black leaders to be the driving force and inspiration propelling the culture and our communities forward,” Harrington said. “I am proud to have partnered with a fellow Black-owned cannabis brand that shares similar values as Viola. Together with Chris Ball and Ball Family Farms we have combined forces to create a group economic initiative… A representation of our strength united as one, empowering Black and minority communities for future generations to come.”

Root & Rebound did not respond to messages for comment.

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