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CannAtlantic Cannabis Conference Highlights Cannabis Social Justice Issues

The virtual CannAtlantic conference held on Saturday highlighted many social justice issues, along with New Jersey legalization.

Organized by Tauhid Chappell and the Philadelphia Area Black Journalists (PABJ), the event was supposed to be held in Philadelphia in the spring before COVID struck. Instead, it was held online and utilized a conference website, Zoom, and YouTube to broadcast a conference where people could participate in panels and comment chat boxes to ask a question from home.

Ricardo Baca of Grasslands Agency, formerly of the Denver Post’s “The Cannabist” kicked off the conference.  

He described one of his biggest stories was about how an industry giant was selling infused chocolate bars that had no THC, which causes consumers to get high. Hundreds of bars were returned and many complained.

“They had to answer to me and my readers,” he said, illustrating the tumultuous nature of the industry. He said it was like building an airplane while flying it.

Cannabis Social Justice in New Jersey Legalization

One of the panels was centered on New Jersey legalization of cannabis with NJ CAN leaders Amol Sinha, Axel Owen, and Leo Bridgewater.

Sinha said it’s a welcoming coalition.

“As folks want, they can join,” he said.

Cannabis reform is very polling well in New Jersey.

“We have two-thirds of New Jerseyans leaning yes,” Sinha explained. “That’s exciting. However, it’s not a slam dunk.”

However, voting by mail has thrown a wrench into their calculations. Sinha urged people to fill out their ballots carefully.

Since New Jersey’s question is very short, it remains to be seen how implementation will play out. The key to getting social justice provisions included will be to advocate with a large coalition.

“It’s important for us to make this as intersectional as possible,” Sinha said. “Our message has changed the game, and we can build political power through racial justice and economic justice.”

New Jersey Cannabis and Justice

“Economic justice and racial justice go hand in hand,” Sinha said.

He explained this is because issues such as job creation include those who are going to be occupying those jobs, such as People of Color (POC)/immigrants.

Bridgewater said there were 7,000 in the program then when PTSD was added when he began advocating. Now that the number is much higher, cannabis-related concerns are liable to be addressed quicker.

“They take it a little more seriously,” Bridgewater said when you have closer to 100,000 patients who will vote and advocate on the issue.

“When we were fighting for PTSD, we were in the midst of an opioid epidemic,” Bridgewater said, noting it’s an ongoing battle.

“They literally put those pills in the mail and pass them around like it’s a candy,” Bridgewater exclaimed. “And you wonder why we’re in the middle of an epidemic!

Bridgewater said that COVID has changed the dynamic around cannabis.

“The entire state of New Jersey qualifies for medical marijuana,” Bridgewater said since so many have become anxious due to COVID.

Along with New Jersey, panels were held featuring legalization efforts in Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC.

Raising Money

Jessica Velazquez de Nevada, Treasurer for the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), and Aja Atwood of Mass, CEO Trella Technologies co-hosted a panel on raising money for cannabis social justice-inclined entrepreneurs.

They noted that not all ancillaries are immune from being treated like plant-touching sometimes by banks that can refuse to do business with them. However, 280-E, whereby plant-touching businesses cannot deduct their expenses, is not a problem for ancillaries.

Most entrepreneurs don’t use Angel investors. Instead, most use credit cards, savings, and money from friends and family to pay for the initial start-up costs.

The business plan then becomes very valuable to show potential investors you know what you’re doing. It was compared to a map. However, events do not always go as planned. Thus, a business plan is a fluid document. Potential investors need to buy into the vision the business plan outlines, even as it changes.

Atwood talked about the benefits of going through a highly unorthodox crowdfunding platform.

It was noted that it has been difficult for some cannabis ancillaries to receive COVID-related economic aid.

It was made clear that no actual plant-touching are allowed to receive money from the fund.


In another panel, Dr. Monica Tang of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR) gave an overview of the Medical Marijuana Program (MMP) of New Jersey. Tang also holds a position on the board of Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana (M4MM), a social justice-minded organization seeking to increase minority participation in cannabis.

She said New Jersey is the “medicine chest of the country.” Many pharmaceutical companies are based here.

Tang described the development of the MMJP as it grew. She said there are now 87,000 patients, 1200 prescribed doctors, and 3,000 caregivers who can obtain therapeutic cannabis for sickly patients.

She said progress on the program has happened in a piecemeal manner.

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