Prominent advocate and businessman Leo Bridgewater is demanding the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey apologize to Congressman Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ-10) and the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) regarding their claim there are no black cannabis license holders.
Bridgewater noted Woah Flow was previously identified only by Heady NJ as the first identified Black-owned New Jersey cannabis company. However they are in fact are not the first, nor the only Black-owned New Jersey cannabis license holder.
Bridgewater said the first was Justice Grown with its then-CEO Jamil Taylor in 2018. He said the company is Black-owned. While they have yet to open, they nonetheless own the license. In addition to Taylor and Woah Flow, Suzan Nickelson, an African American lady and owner of Holistic Solutions, won a license to operate a New Jersey medical cannabis dispensary in Barrington, NJ, in Camden County last year on December 7th. She is thus the first Black female cannabis company owner in New Jersey.
Nickelson was a guest on the Instagram video Bridgewater made on the subject of ownership. In the video, she noted she has been busy in the wake of the announcement and had an article with the allegation there are no Black owners sent to her.
(She is featured in the photo above with Bridgewater.)
Refuting False Claims
“I believe that John Harmon and the African American Chamber need to, ought to issue an apology to Congressman Donald Payne. They need to issue an apology to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission,” Bridgewater said.
He dismissed research done by the Chamber that did not find any Black license holders since a simple search of the 2019 RFA license winners would have found Nickelson.
“Two weeks in, and you ain’t said anything,” Bridgewater said. “You told a Congressman 56 licenses were issued under the adult-use program, and zero of them went to them that were Black, and that was all untrue.”
He lamented the stories on the lack of Black cannabis license holders went viral.
“This is damaging on a national scale,” Bridgewater said. “They don’t know what investment dollars they could have just messed up for a lot of people here with that information.”
“You got people in California saying, “oh shit, I told you this (social equity) won’t work,” he said.
“Well shit, I’m not going to invest in New Jersey. They don’t give licenses to black people,” Bridgewater thought people would say.
He added it could also discourage potential Black license applicants.
“It was not in reference to the adult-use licenses because they had not been given out yet,” said a spokesperson for Congressman Payne regarding the statement issued on New Jersey’s cannabis industry owners.
“The purpose was more to draw attention to the lack of minority business owners and entrepreneurs in New Jersey’s cannabis industry. Whether the number is zero or three, it is still extremely low and doesn’t even match New Jersey’s population demographics,” he added.
Supporting Diverse New Jersey Cannabis License Holders
Bridgewater has been advocating for a New Jersey cannabis industry with social equity at its center for several years with many minority cannabis license holders.
He is especially angry with the Chamber for the statement in their press release that “No Black-owned business received a license back then, and none has received a license since the legalization of cannabis for recreational use thus far.”
Bridgewater believed it assumed that licenses in the adult-use market have been awarded when that is not true.
“This shit has been hard enough. The African American Chamber of Commerce just made my job even harder and just messed up a lot of people’s money,” he added.
Bridgewater lamented the effect this had on the CRC.
“The Cannabis Regulatory Commission is distracted from solidifying the foundations of the New Jersey cannabis industry and having to answer information that is factually untrue,” he said.
“You got people who are outside of New Jersey thinking that the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission doesn’t give black people licenses when that is not true,” Bridgewater added.
“This is a textbook example of how our own kind can be the worst,” he said.
Issues with the African American Chamber of Commerce of NJ
“The African American Chamber of Commerce has been very casual and cavalier when it comes to the cannabis industry,” he said. “If Leo Bridgewater truly had the full support of the African American Chamber of Commerce to all of their all assets and resources, do you truly think access to capital would be a problem for me?”
“The Black Church is literally the source code because when you look at the NAACP and the African American Chamber,” he noted.
Bridgewater explained many Black Church leaders are also Chamber leaders and very wary of cannabis legalization.
“That is not a controversial secret. That is a widely known fact,” he said. “I don’t trust them.”
“You’ve pretty much been absent for most of this,” Bridgewater said of the Chamber.
“I will fight for you and advocate. If you get in some shit you better make sure you tell me everything,” he said his mother would tell him as a kid.
“I’m raising hell, and your ass was in the wrong every time. That’s exactly what they just did,” he explained regarding the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey and its claim there are no Black owners.
“You lied,” Bridgewater said about the Chamber.
He is not willing to chalk this up to a simple misunderstanding.
“When it comes to cannabis and hemp… the African American Chamber of Commerce is not the organization that you go to,” he said.
Bridgewater spoke better of the NJ CannaBusinessAssociation (NJCBA).
After the time of publication, an African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey spokesperson noted Harmon has acknowledged there is at least one Black cannabis license holder.