Leo Bridgewater: Cannabis Activist in Action and Business

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HNJ 420 Leo Bridgewater

Leo Bridgewater is a prominent New Jersey-based cannabis activist and businessman. He has a presence in the industry across the country, having consulted businesses in multiple states.

Born and raised in Trenton, he graduated from Trenton Central High School in 1994. Then he joined the military in response to 9/11. Bridgewater was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as a telecommunications specialist. After deployment, he came back to New Jersey. But he was having issues.

He began using cannabis to treat his PTSD after speaking with other veterans.

 “Cannabis has allowed me to go from suffering from PTSD to living with PTSD, and I’m able to remain functional. It also allows me to, helps me to, deal with pain in my knees,” he said.

PTSD wasn’t initially found to be a qualifying condition in New Jersey’s medical marijuana program. So Leo Bridgewater fought with others to see it added. He testified before an Assembly committee. Former Governor Chris Christie finally added PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions in 2016.

“The veteran voice is a very powerful voice if deployed right,” Bridgewater noted.

He is on the Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana (M4MM) board as the National Director for Veteran’s Outreach for M4MM. In addition, Bridgewater is the co-founder of Leaf Launch Holdings. Leo Bridgewater is also on the board of the Cannabis World Congress (CWC). He spoke at their expo in New York City this past spring.

Cannabis Referendum Issues

However, he is unhappy about the recent news that a ballot referendum will vote on New Jersey’s market.

“We’re screwed,” he said pessimistically regarding the referendum.

Historically, any states that have legalized cannabis through ballot referendum wish they hadn’t. Every contingency that New Jersey has sent to Vegas, Colorado, or California all warned don’t do this by referendum,” Leo Bridgewater said.

He explained the State seemed to be planning on taking the entire industry with all its nuances. But they’re oversimplifying to a “yes or no” question to the detriment of those fighting for the inclusion of criminal justice and small business assistance provisions.

But the opposition of legalization from State Senators Ron Rice (D-Essex) and Shirley Turner (D-Mercer), preeminent African American voices in Trenton, will likely exasperate the problem.

“They’re the Flintstones to my Jetsons,” Bridgewater said.

In his opinion, their stubbornness is astounding, given the industry’s potential to help inner-city communities.

Politicians representing communities of color opposing legalization means that legalization may not contain provisions that benefit their constituents. Without these key voices, Bridgewater feels it is harder for cannabis activists to get key criminal justice and small business provisions included in the final legislation.

Advocacy Issues

Bridgewater explained the vast amount of economic opportunities opened by cannabis reform. Those include good, white-collar jobs and the businesses that have opened up already, such as one using hemp in building mixes in urban communities, saying, “We’re rebuilding the hood.” He added that local cannabis-based businesses could benefit each other and their community.

“New Jersey could be number two in (tax) revenue after California,” Bridgewater said. “At what point do you start talking about that money?

Bridgewater said that the vast majority of C-suite executives are middle-aged or older white men.

“Historically, this industry hasn’t been kind to people of color and women. One of the ways it has gotten so bad is ballot referendums,” he explained. “This presents a disaster thing for us.”

Bridgewater said that at the time the ACLU released a report saying there were 32,000 cannabis-related arrests in New Jersey a year. A referendum procedure was illuminating to him.

“That tells me, as an African American man in New Jersey, the big business of locking us up is something that’s a regular thing here. When you do a ballot referendum, even when warned not to, and it is New Jersey, the fix is in,” Bridgewater said, pointing to Big Pharma, Big Alcohol, and the Prison-Industrial complex as the reason reform was stopped.

Veteran Cannabis Activist

Nonetheless, Bridgewater is optimistic about the success of the industry and the movement. He pointed to Joe Biden’s retraction of his statement calling cannabis a “gateway drug.”

Regarding the hot topic of homegrow, he said, “I think that could be a thing. Let’s do this smart.” He believes health caretakers should register and be allowed to grow up to 50 plants for 20 patients. To him, registering individuals is key to the program.

“There should be oversight and a smart way to do it,” Bridgewater added.

He also believes as a cannabis activist it would ay to allow legacy growers to enter the market and use their experience.

“They’re the ones we need the most, the ones doing it underground, in the shadows,” Bridgewater explained.

He added that the number of patients in the MMJ program and those concerned with social justice would grow into a voting bloc that could threaten incumbents in otherwise comfortable positions. Bridgewater believes this would then give the politicians opposed to legalization a pause to think.

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