Whether they are legacy entrepreneurs or people disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs, cannabis license applicants qualifying for social equity laws are prepared and motivated to make the growing marijuana industry a thriving one. As states like New Jersey and New York join the cannabis revolution with progressive cannabis laws and established states like Colorado, California, and Massachusetts introduce cannabis social equity reforms, the efforts to make the cannabis industry more diverse are finally bearing fruit. By being inclusive and empowering social equity applicants with the right tools to succeed, we can ensure a smooth transition from the legacy market to the regulated cannabis retail market in the US.
New Jersey’s cannabis regulatory commission has pioneered an excellent social equity program by prioritizing applicants with prior cannabis convictions for conditional licenses. Tahir Johnson and his childhood friend, John Dockery, have been the recipients of two of the eleven conditional adult-use cannabis retail licenses awarded recently by the CRC. Tahir and John are working hard to open their respective dispensary locations soon under the brand name, Simply Pure in Trenton, NJ. Cova recently spoke with Tahir to find out how he got awarded the coveted dispensary license in New Jersey and how he intends to make the most of this opportunity.
Tahir Johnson: What it Takes to Make it
With a background in finance and extensive experience in the cannabis industry, having worked as a budtender and with cannabis-pro organizations like the NCIA, US Cannabis Council, and The Marijuana Policy Project, Tahir brings invaluable expertise to New Jersey’s cannabis retail industry. His first attempt at applying for a cannabis business license in 2019 may have failed, but Tahir did not give up. He persevered, continued working with cannabis organizations to advocate for social equity, and built industry connections who have advised him on his journey. Tahir believes that if you can demonstrate the right skills and differentiate yourself with a unique story, people will always be there to help you achieve your goals. The passion he exudes for cannabis and social equity is reflected in how he is motivated to bring a change and contribute to the community. And this is why the legal cannabis industry will continue to grow not just for social equity licensees but also because of them.
“I’ve always wanted to bring a change, and I feel cannabis can be a great vehicle for that. With the right mindset, we can push the envelope and create opportunities for everyone”, says Tahir.
Cannabis Social Equity Challenges
Raising capital is always a big challenge when starting a new business and even more so for women and people of color. Cannabis retail businesses anyway find it hard to obtain funding due to the federal status of cannabis. But, such challenges get exacerbated for social equity license applicants. Johnson has worked hard to level the playing field for people who qualify as social equity applicants by advocating for equitable cannabis license regulations and less stringent requirements. Tahir also had to overcome challenges navigating the license application process, drafting a solid business plan, finding real estate, and attracting investors. However, with his background as an investment advisor, knowledge of the industry, and a vast professional network, he succeeded in his endeavors.
“I recognize that everyone may not have the same background as me, and that’s why we must ensure the equal availability of resources to everyone. We will only succeed if we collectively empower and support the community”, declares Johnson.
The Desire to Create an Impact
People like Tahir and their families have endured the war on drugs personally and want to have a positive impact on their communities. Tahir believes this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him not just to break the glass ceiling for minority entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry but also to create jobs for his hometown community. He has committed to hiring at least 10% of employees with prior cannabis charges to ensure that he’s creating value for disproportionately impacted communities. Johnson acknowledges that this is only the beginning and more work still needs to be done to make the cannabis industry fair and equitable. And he has resolved to make himself available to help other social equity applicants through the licensing process.
“I want to share my knowledge and experience with as many people as possible. That is my way of having an impact and hopefully making a difference”, mentions Johnson.
Tips to Succeed as a Social Equity Dispensary Applicant
Tahir has learned a lot from his friend and mentor, Wanda James, the first African-American woman to own a cannabis dispensary in the United States. He has partnered with her to license her brand, Simply Pure in NJ, and wants to follow in her footsteps to guide minority entrepreneurs towards success in cannabis retail. He knows that efforts toward inclusion have only just begun, but there are various roadblocks that social equity applicants must navigate. Even though the CRC has created a comprehensive application guide, it’s still advisable to partner with someone who has experience in the regulated cannabis industry and can help simplify the process. Demonstrating significant community ties and building relationships with trusted service providers, organizations, or consultants that can help you differentiate yourself and convert your conditional license to permanent is the way to go.
“I’m working with advisors to get everything up and running soon. And thanks to educational resources from partners like Cova, we’ll be able to capitalize on the first-mover advantage”, says Tahir, excited about New Jersey’s cannabis retail prospects.
How to Apply for a Cannabis Retailer License in NJ
Tahir Johnson is looking forward to opening his dispensary and serving New Jersey’s cannabis community by the end of 2022. He may be one of the first social equity retailers in NJ, but certainly not the last. Applying for an adult-use cannabis retailer license can be a long and complicated process- and you must ensure that you qualify for the correct category when applying for a cannabis social equity license. Our complete guide on applying for a dispensary license in New Jersey is a great resource for you to get started. Click below to learn more.