Potty shops finally got the green light. Those who built the market must have one too. | Calavia-Robertson

For Hasniah “Fresh” El-Amin, opening a cannabis dispensary in New Jersey wouldn’t just be a dream come true. It would also represent a special kind of full-loop moment that she’s been waiting too long for.

About 8 years ago, El-Amin, who is now 31, says she was riding in a friend’s car in Newark when he was pulled over by police. “They said they smelled marijuana, searched us and searched the car,” she said. El-Amin says one of the officers found the ounce of marijuana she had in her pocket.

The next thing she knew, she was handcuffed, arrested and dragged to the police station. And all for the simple possession of the plant which is now poised to become a major player in reviving the state’s economy – the Cannabis Regulatory Commission on Monday approved the first seven medical marijuana dispensaries for sale for adult use, which will begin on April 21.

At the time, El-Amin says it would have been nearly impossible for him to imagine that the legal weed market would ever get the green light. She remembers arguing with a public defender who advised her to plead guilty and then had to defend herself in court.

It’s nightmarish she said, “from the arrest to what follows, it’s not something you easily forget.” Despite everything, the ordeal is now far behind her.

El-Amin, a serial entrepreneur by nature, who owns several businesses including Suite 29, a private dining and events space in Orange, Buddha Bowls, a health food restaurant in Belleville, and Fresh Collection, a clothing design company and clothing company, which produces all the merchandise for Bloomfield College, prefers to focus on the future.

“A bright future where the owner of the dispensary is added to the list,” she says. “It’s the vision, the mission, the dream, the goal… and I know it’s not without challenges but I’m not giving up.”

El-Amin has been working hard towards this goal for some time now. In August 2018, she said she secured nearly $9 million from an investor she met through a mutual friend and applied for an alternative medical marijuana treatment center license, needed to open a medical marijuana dispensary. medical marijuana in New Jersey.

But months later, she says her request was denied.

“It’s frustrating because (NJ politicians) say they will prioritize license applications from people of color, minorities, women, from us blacks and Latinos, who have been so negatively and disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, they say they care about fairness,” El-Amin said.

“But do they, really? It certainly doesn’t look like it when they make it so hard for us to get into the industry. Ultimately, it’s a political game.

She’s right. Talking is cheap. But she is far from alone in noticing and highlighting the diversity and equity issue in the industry, and rightly so.

Currently, only these seven businesses with medical cannabis licenses can open next week, and none are black or Latino-owned.

Nearly half of the 102 conditional adult-use licenses were issued to blacks and Latinos. But for those licenses to receive full approval, they will have to go through a municipal process over which the commission has no control. This may become a hindrance because about 400 municipalities, or 71% of local governments in the state, have already banned the opening of dispensaries. They are known as the opt-out market.

Jelani Gibson, senior reporter for NJ Cannabis Insider, said this opt-out market has driven prices up significantly, into an income bracket unreachable for many middle-class Americans, let alone socioeconomically disadvantaged war-affected populations. against drugs. In some cases, there have been price gouging by landlords who imagine large sums of money from these companies and increase the rent.

As for cities that license pottery shops, they can also determine the number of licenses for their city and the types of licenses – only medicinal or recreational and medicinal.

“When a business needs a lobbyist to get permission to open,” says Gibson, “it’s a clear indication that the business itself needs large amounts of economic and political capital.”

All these hurdles just to open a store, and time is running out.

Over time, the dozen dispensaries that will open this month will increase their clientele. They will become bigger and more popular.

That’s why Ami Kachalia, an American civil libertarian, said in a recent tweetwhy not just slow down and make sure we’re fair.

Gibson says the real problem with bringing people from the underground or legacy cannabis market to the legal marijuana market is that the economic value of the legacy market is incredibly large, and the legal market they create is so incredibly small. But the transition of these actors towards a legal framework is of crucial importance.

If we can’t address these issues and bring them to the legal market, people of color – who are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana even if they use the product at the same rate as white people – will likely remain in the underground market and face arrest.

These are the issues that prevent people like El-Amin from achieving his goal of entering the legitimate market. But that won’t stop him.

El-Amin said she and her business partner, a Latina who is a veteran, would again apply for a license to sell marijuana.

“We [people of color] built this ‘business,'” she says. “More than anyone, we belong to the legal cannabis industry.”

You can reach Daysi Calavia-Robertson at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram at @presspassdaysi or Twitter @presspassdaysi.

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