Were Found Guilty of Marijuana Possession Charges. They’re Now in The Position of Having the First Legal Opportunity to Sell It!

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Three separate times, Tahir Johnson was arrested for allegedly being in possession of marijuana. His conviction on one of those counts has never affected his ability to find work, but now it finally won’t. It’s a good idea and will be useful.

In March, Johnson, age 39, will launch Simply Pure Trenton in his hometown of Ewing, which is located near the state capital. He will be one of the first people in New Jersey to own and manage a legal dispensary while having a conviction linked to marijuana. As a “social equity applicant,” he was among a select group of approximately a dozen people in the state to receive a conditional license in 2022.

Johnson claimed, “I checked all the boxes” when asked about his application criteria. And I was feeling especially sure of myself because of my track record of getting arrested in the past.

Dispensaries owned by people of color, women, or disabled veterans, as well as those in “impact zones,” or areas disproportionately affected by police and marijuana arrests, will be given license priority in New Jersey. This is part of a larger movement to undo the damage done by decades of discriminatory drug laws.

Johnson was an ideal candidate for all three roles. Since he was granted a provisional license, he has successfully raised money, bought land, and gotten permits from the local government.

They were convicted on marijuana charges. Now they’re first in line to sell it legally

Awardees can begin operations with a conditional license while they complete the conditions for a full yearly license. In May, the New Jersey CRC issued the first 11. Since then, a recent report from the FDA shows that around one-quarter of all licenses have gone to social equity applicants and that 16% of those permits have gone exclusively to individuals with prior marijuana convictions.

Johnson, whose history includes encounters with law enforcement, jail time, and legal battles over minor amounts of marijuana found during traffic stops, described the incident as “a full circle moment.” Johnson’s current projects include staffing up, engaging with vendors, and stocking shelves. He thinks the company will do well financially.

Creating “generational wealth” for his family was “surreal,” he claimed.

Sales data from the Cannabis Regulation Commission shows that in the third quarter of 2022, the state as a whole raked in $177 million from marijuana sales, with $116 million coming from recreational sales.

Emphasizing Equity

Legislators argue that helping small business owners like Johnson will help individuals who have suffered the most from marijuana prohibition to compete more effectively with larger corporations. New York, which has set aside the first 150 permits for those with marijuana-related convictions or their relatives, is just one state with a similar effort in the works.

Reed Gusciora, mayor of Trenton, stated, “There are enough folks that went to jail or prison for marijuana that have more experience than a lot of these corporate entities.” We wished for them to have the same chance at success as a Colorado-based firm relocating to the area.

They were convicted on marijuana charges. Now they’re first in line to sell it legally

Recreational marijuana law co-introducer Reed Gusciora has expressed his excitement over the recent surge of interest in establishing a company in Trenton. He envisions the city as an example of how a robust and fair legal economy operates. Gusciora argues that in order for this to happen, individuals who have been negatively impacted by the war on drugs must be consulted first.

The mayor explained that legalization’s main goal was to “throw drug dealers out of business.” It would be counterproductive to legalization if people were denied entry unless they could do so legally.

John Dockery began his career in the marijuana trade when he was a youngster in the 1990s. At 19, he was arrested for simple possession, which he said severely hampered his employment opportunities and kept him dealing.

The Trenton native was among the first to acquire a conditional license last year. “From the beginning of my adulthood, I had to disclose my charge every time I went for a job,” he said.

Dockery initially viewed New Jersey’s attempts at legalization with skepticism. Throughout the years, he built up six charges, but he claimed that this was the “standard” in Trenton.

I don’t know many people who haven’t been arrested for marijuana use, Dockery remarked. Everyone here has a criminal record, some more serious than others.

A majority of Trenton’s residents are African American. The state designated the area as an “Impact Zone” in recent years because of the high rates of crime, unemployment, and poverty that have persisted thereafter marijuana was made illegal.

Despite identical rates of use, African Americans in Mercer County, where Trenton is located, were more than four times as likely as white people to be prosecuted for carrying the substance.

Dockery claimed that he was “so used to everything feeling like it’s not programmed for us” that the prize came as a surprise, even though he was the type of applicant the state promised to give preference to when giving permits.

From ‘legacy’ to Legal

Legislators in New Jersey are banking on the fact that people like Dockery, who have been dealing marijuana in the existing illegal or “legacy” market, will want to apply as social equity applicants in the new legal market.

After decades of arrests, raids, legal fights, and prison time, drug dealer Ed Forchion has decided to go legit. Forchion, 58, has worked in the marijuana industry for the better part of his life. He became well-known in New Jersey as a passionate proponent of legalization when he ran for office using the Legalize Marijuana Party.

They were convicted on marijuana charges. Now they’re first in line to sell it legally

In 2016, Forchion, popularly known as “NJ Weedman,” legally started selling marijuana out of his business in Trenton. His pot shop, NJ Weedman’s Joint, is direct across from Trenton’s municipal building.

‘Who wants the threat of arrest all the time?’ he asked. “While I was eager to fight and battle, I would much rather pay taxes and be legal and be seen as an inventive, brilliant, savvy company than a slick, deceptive drug dealer.”

In light of the state’s recent decriminalization of marijuana, individuals like Forchion have seen the majority of their prior convictions for marijuana-related crimes overturned.

Forchion is prepared to enter the legal market, but he has concerns about the cannabis commission’s proposed framework. One of these concerns is the prohibition on dispensaries selling edibles and beverages.

“I don’t see how I can comply,” said Forchion, whose dispensary also served as a restaurant.

But he appreciates the government’s attempts to create opportunities for people like him. He, too, is making progress towards respectability, but at a slower rate.

For him and others like him, “the state is going to have to catch up to the illegal market,” he explained. Yet ultimately, I hope to bequeath a successful, legitimate business to my offspring.

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