The National Forum For Black Public Administrators (NFBPA) of NJ held a forum on New Jersey cannabis social equity issues that featured NJWeedman.
Nichelle Santos of CannaCoverage and Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM) spearheaded the event with the NFBPA.
NJ Assembly Speaker Pro-Tempre Benji Wimberly (D-Passaic) gave the keynote speech. He was a legislative leader in the New Jersey cannabis legalization effort. He explained that growing up in Paterson, he saw the negative impact of the War on Drugs.
“Sugar and salt has killed more than any of us. Have an attack on our diets. Have an attack on food deserts,” Wimberly declared.
“I’m a user because of the cannabis oils,” he explained.
Ensuring Cannabis Social Equity in New Jersey
Wimberly understood the nature of protecting small business people in the New Jersey cannabis industry.
“The wrong people will take over these small businesses,” Wimberly warned. “It’s for the marginalized. We don’t want you in our community. Go back to Hollywood. We need folks who were impacted. They have been given the run around over and over again. We have to make sure we open those doors!”
“The payday should be for those who never got 40 acres and a mule,” Wimberly declared.
During the Civil War, U.S. General William Tecumseh Sherman promised former slaves that they would distribute former plantation lands to them. When Abraham Lincoln was President, it was thought possible. However, he was shot, and his successor Andrew Johnson reneged.
He noted that will there was merit to legacy or underground “black” market operations, “there was no pension in that.”
“Alcohol has been another ill that has killed our community for years. But we know folks got rich off our community for years,” Wimberly declared.
“Expose it!” he exclaimed. “We deserve more!”
Wimberly wants more New Jersey adult cannabis sales revenue to address Social Equity issues.
Plainfield Cannabis and Social Equity
“The cannabis industry of New Jersey was built off the backs of Black and Brown people. And now it’s plug and play for other people,” Santos declared.
Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp then welcomed the crowd.
“Plainfield is a city in the move. And the cannabis industry will be part of the revitalization,” he declared. “We are open for business. We want you to be a part if what is happening in your city.”
Mapp noted several local New Jersey adult use cannabis dispensary licenses have received local approval.
NJ Town Cannabis Licensing Process Discussed
Next was a panel on local progress in towns and the issues that New Jersey cannabis companies have faced. It featured City of Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren, Plainfield Cannabis Czar Ernest Bennett, Trenton Law Director Wesley Bridges, and Precious Osagie-Erese of Precious Cannabis Co., formerly of Roll Up Life.
He explained they are supporting businesses opening in the city. They have done so by a town hall for citizens and working closely with the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJ-CRC).
“We look to have 2 ribbon cuttings in the next 2 months,” Bennett noted.
“I have a daughter who has seizures. We started looking at CBD oils. It really had an impact on her quality of life,” Bridges confessed.
He explained the pro-cannabis Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora asked him to craft pro-cannabis legislation. He noted its passage was difficult.
Bridges explained there is a great need to educate city officials and the community at large.
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He argued cannabis companies could revitalize post-industrial neighborhoods.
“We’re open for business. It takes time,” Bennett explained.
Barriers to Entry into New Jersey Cannabis
Santos asked how they decided how many cannabis businesses would be in town.
“There’s not a day goes by where I don’t get a 1000 emails.. wanting to open a business in the city of Plainfield,” Bennett noted. “At first, it was five. Now it’s nine.”
Bridges noted Trenton isn’t that large.
“We didn’t want to saturate the market,” he explained.
They also have issues with churches and schools that want to be far from the Green Zone, where New Jersey adult use cannabis companies are allowed.
Thus, while 15 have applied, only two have been approved under their cap of 10. He explained they are revising their cannabis ordinance to expand the Green Zone and increase the hours of operation.
“There isn’t enough support to overcome the barriers,” Osagie-Erese declared.
Navigating Town Politics
She noted the town level is the problem.
“You need to raise millions of dollars. You need to hire lobbyists to buddy up,” Osagie-Erese argued.
She said town approvals are going to friends of politicians.
“Look at different access points. Ancillary is the place to be,” Osagie-Erese noted. “I’m seeing a lot of entrepreneurs get disheartened. You have to be creative, and you have to move forward.”
Santos noted in the Gold Rush people got rich selling things to people looking to mine gold, comparable to her own insurance business CannaCoverage as an example.
Bridges urged New Jersey cannabis company license applicants to charm their community to soothe objections.
“It’s getting to know your elected officials… in the confines of city hall,” he added.
Santos noted the City of Orange in Essex County, where Dwayne Warren is the mayor, hasn’t opted in.
Warren explained that while he favors cannabis and social equity, there is a popular Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) emotional sentiment felt by those who don’t want it by parks, daycare centers, schools, and bus stops.
Bridges noted the value of mobilizing community groups in favor of New Jersey cannabis companies.
“You have to be educators. Sometimes they just don’t know,” Warren said.
NJ Weedman Discuses Underground Legacy Operator Issues
She defined a “legacy operator” as someone who sold weed underground for at least five years, which is a lot of time.
“There’s a lot of wealth being generated from this plant. The legacy guys were right. This is what I call the Golden Age of Cannabis,” Powell noted.
She noted the brazenness of NJWeedman selling and smoking weed by Trenton City Hall.
“What was that motivating factor for you?” Powell asked.
“I always found it unfair. Everybody was wrong,” NJWeedman declared. “People I knew were getting locked up for it. The law is wrong.”
Fighting the Law
He explained that when he got busted in 1997 with 40 pounds, he should have gotten 30 years in jail. However, he was a family man and very persuasive.
He explained his theory of Jury Nullification.
“Juries can do anything they want to,’ NJWeedman argued. “One juror started crying.”
He then took a deal of 3 to 6 months in prison. But the sentence turned into 24 months. NJWeedman felt like he initially won. Thus, the extension felt like a betrayal, and he did not want to take any deals afterward.
“In Mercer County, I’m 40 and 1!” he declared.
“I’m the one!” exclaimed Bridges from the crowd.
Forchion acknowledged that and said their relationship is better now.
The legacy operator Daniel Kessel tried that strategy in Ocean County and ran into problems.
“The legacy market has been doing this for decades,” NJWeedman noted. “There are corporate CEO who are doing the same thing. Probably doesn’t even smoke weed. That irritates me.”
He calls the Multi-State Operator (MSOs) “Caucasian cannabis corporations.”
NJWeedman said they donated campaign contributions which he called bribes so favorable legislation would be written.
“Why is there no Home Grow in the Garden State?! The big corporations don’t want it! They think it will eat into their profit,” he explained.
Defining Legacy Operator and Legality
Powell sought to make a distinction between those she called opportunistic with smoke shops and “true” legacy operators.
“They’re not necessarily legacy,” she argued regarding smoke shops and corner stores selling weed.
However, NJWeedman did not see the distinction.
“I actually applaud those guys,” he said.
NJWeedman called for grant programs to help cannabis companies.
Powell noted consumer safety and access to children issues.
“We tested our product on ourselves. They’re selling stuff they would never take,” she claimed about smoke shop owners.
“I look at testing as a false flag. I’ve been smoking marijuana for 43 years,” NJWeedman said. “This new age corporate cannabis put this… buzz kill in. These become obstacles for the little guy.”
Many enterprising legacy operators encourage you to smell and touch their flower, which you cannot do with legal New Jersey adult use cannabis.