11/16/20 BY DAN ULLOA
Tara “Misu” Sargente has seen cannabis go from being underground to nearly legal in New Jersey. While doing so, she has made herself nationally known with her company Blazin’ Bakery.
It began eleven years ago when she was dating someone who could not drink but still wanted to have fun. So, she made pot brownies. When they turned out well, she offered them to friends who shared them with their friends. Thus, there seemed to be a market. However, she was wary of selling drugs.
However, selling the mix was appealing. So Misu researched the market and spent time perfecting her recipe. When she felt it was ready, she made a YouTube video about it which went viral.
“It just grew from there,” Misu said. She earned the nickname “Tara Misu” when her then-boyfriend nicked named her that.
“I’m an Italian girl in Jersey that was baking, and my lawyer advised not to use my real name. I liked it and it stuck,” Misu explained, having been raised in South River. Because she got into the industry before Colorado became the first state to legalize, she is justified saying, “I come from old school cannabis.”
A sign of how things have changed in cannabis was that Misu used to have dreadlocks.
“It was a different time, it added legitimacy,” she explained, acknowledging how different the industry is now. “I never shy away from it.”
To establish her name as a name in the industry, Misu hit the road.
“Conferences back then were very different. Back then if you walked into a conference in a suit, they would have thought you a cop,” she said. Misu ended up spending six months out of the year elsewhere promoting her brand.
“I’m a Jersey girl at heart, but I was on the road quite a bit,” Misu said.
The Future is Bright for Blazin’ Bakery
A sign of how the travel paid off was that someone who complimented her brand recently had heard of it while in Vancouver.
“Spencer’s helped with that a lot. I was uniquely positioned with that,” she said. Through her diligence, she was able to get a contract to provide brownie mixes to Spencer’s stores in malls across the United States.
But the journey has not been easy. Despite having her product sold in malls, her bank account has been closed twice. A bank once said, “You have to leave. We don’t deal with your type of business.”
In addition, she had to end her contract with Spencer’s in 2014 because she could not meet the demand. The only investor she found that would have allowed her to scale was based in Colorado and required her to leave New Jersey, which she was not prepared to do. Spencer’s now sells a knock-off made in China. She bares them no ill will though.
In terms of her own business’ future, she said, “I’m thinking way past brownies. That was cutting edge then. I just have a million ideas,” she said. However, getting money to implement ideas still isn’t easy.
“It’s harder for a woman. Ninety-seven percent of venture funding goes to white males,” she said. Nonetheless, Tara Misu is dauntless.
“I’m excited to get to expand Blazin’ Bakery. I want it in every state. I’ve been called Betty Chronic,” she said, a play on the well-known baking goods brand Betty Crocker. Prior to getting into the cannabis industry, she worked in marketing in the fashion industry. Misu believes her marketing experience gives her an edge in cannabis.
“A lot of the cannabis marketing is homogenous, the names sound the same, there’s not much thought put it into it. Corporate people coming into the market are,” she noted.
Fighting for Cannabis Reform
As she built Blazin’ Bakery, Misu became an advocate for legalization, attending marches and testifying before legislators.
In summer 2018, NJCBA President Scott Rudder placed an order through Blazin’ Bakery. She gave him a special delivery and they became friends, and Misu became involved with the NJCBA. After initially becoming a strategic advisor, it was announced last January she had become their Executive Director.
“I’ve been really proud of the work we’ve done educating the public, growing up that wasn’t my world. Politicians seemed ivory tower,” she said. “Now I get to have conversations with people who really influence the laws and what happens in the State of New Jersey. It’s been remarkable working with NJCBA.”
Fighting for legalization in New Jersey has been quite the roller coaster.
“We were all excited when Governor Murphy got in that the state would see legalization happen rapidly. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple, but we have made significant progress,” she said.
While legalization will be decided by a ballot measure in November and 94 people are getting arrested every day, Misu is glad about the little victories.
“It’s easy to get defeated. But I practice gratitude. I believe in what we’re doing. If you look at the small stuff, we’re making progress,” she said.
“We can’t stop fighting for that, for social justice. Of all the things we didn’t get across the lines that’s the saddest to see, people are in prison for something legal in 11 states,” Misu argued. With that in mind, misinformation needs to be dispelled.
“Money will be coming in from the opposition and we need to make sure the public is educated. New Jersey was one of the original 13 states in the union and I’m hoping it’s one going to be one of the first 13 to legalize.”
She is optimistic about its passage.
“We should get this across the line easily. We have over 60 percent support in the state,” Misu said.
“I have faith in my state,” she said. “November will be here before we know it. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a timeline,” she explained. “I’ve waited a decade. What’s a year?”
Another thing that excites her is a podcast she’s starting next month called “Trailblazin’ with Tara Misu” that will leverage experience and contacts to discuss the industry and her history in it.
“I see everything I dreamt about when people called me a crazy person, I see everything coming true. And I was a little part of that happening in the state and I’m pretty proud of that,” she said.
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