In NJ’s Legal Weed Market, Black Owner Focuses On Legacy And Hope
EDITOR’S NOTE: NJ Cannabis Insider is co-hosting a Cannabis Career Fair & Business Expo on April 5 at the University of Stockton. (Students free.) Tickets here. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Suzan Nickelson has obtained a state license to open a medical cannabis dispensary in South Jersey.
Nickelson recently made history for being one of the first black cannabis entrepreneurs to be licensed to sell cannabis to patients with her company, Holistic Solutions. For this interview, she moved to Wilson’s, a jazz restaurant in Hi-Nella. She chose this place for its historical significance.
Jazz, the music genre strongly associated with cannabis and ridiculed by the government, is just one example of how the plant has always gained a foothold in the most influential aspects of American pop culture.
Nestled in Camden County, Nickelson plans to open a retail store with an eye on the legal market that’s rooted in the cultural underground that built it.
Amid colorful portraits, instruments and an entire band, she talks about her journey, her transition from the Underground Market, also known in industry circles as the Legacy Market, and why now is the time. now has come for ethical businesses to lead the way culturally in securing a healthy and — holistic — cannabis culture. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Q: What is your background and how does it influence what you bring to market?
A: I am of Jamaican descent. My people come from West Africa. From there, we have been farming and cultivating forever. Through spirituality and eventually the slave trade, our people ended up in Jamaica.
Our family comes from lines of runaway slaves who, when they landed on the beautiful shores of Jamaica, fled into the hills.
From there, it’s an informal tradition that many women in our culture have carried on and been called herbalists. Everything I learned about cannabis was passed down through female traditions and those of my mother.
Q: When we talk about the transmission of tradition, many cultures on the African continent transmit knowledge through oral traditions. Is that how you acquired your knowledge?
A: Absoutely. My mother was a great storyteller. In the herbalist, the spirituality, the origin of the African roots was always true. In oral histories, [there are] our cultures, our food, our language and the identification of some hill roots that were medicinal.
My mother did not believe in traditional medicine. She rarely went to the doctor. Most of his remedies were home remedies. She was an avid learner and we were avid listeners.
Q: When I think of this word ‘traditional medicine’, what you just described was your family’s tradition, right?
A: It was. Not only medicine but spiritual. Cannabis has been a plant of reverence and spirituality given to people for healing. Intentional stigma led to what we are going through now in the war on drugs that has hurt blacks and browns.
Now, globally, countries have come in and nationalized legalization. I hope America can lead the way, especially since cannabis [arrests] impacts black and brown communities at a higher rate of incarceration even though we all use the plant in the same way.
Q: What story do you want to bring to your brand?
A: I think Holistic Solutions is an opportunity to see cannabis in a female voice curated by black people. We are the guardians of our community. If there is an impact and disturbance in the family, this disturbance is normally owned by the woman.
In this, there is a lot of stigma in cannabis use. I hope to reduce the stigma because many people use cannabis for a variety of reasons, whether medically treating physical, mental or other health issues, or for spiritual and recreational use, I believe giving a female voice in a space that has been dominated by men always gives a different light and opportunity.
I am mom.
Ensuring a product is safe and responsible comes first. We want to make sure that the cannabis we bring to market is diverse. Many cannabis entrepreneurs go unrecognized because they are unable to scale the market. They don’t have the opportunity to expose themselves. That’s one of the things that Holistic Solutions will offer – a variety of scale and storage space.
I think having a woman – and black women understand both sides – whether it’s business or the infrastructure of what’s needed, I’ve often realized that there aren’t a lot of products that fit me.
We love a good bag. I have women who look at cured cannabis with the same level of sophistication, but that just doesn’t sit well with us.
These tastes are transversal and diversified, not an ethnic group. We all love fashion, we all love art. We are sitting in a beautiful jazz restaurant where people are knowledgeable and jazz comes from different backgrounds.
By providing this life of community and respect for the factory and working with market operators who have the sophistication to give Holistic Solutions the visibility it needs, I think this will be a fantastic opportunity.
Q: What about municipalities that don’t want to be part of the industry?
A: I think these are ongoing discussions. It comes down to education. Understand what some of the fears are and provide that exposure.
Form a committee, write down what your concerns are. Ask the committee to consistently provide education and exposure. Travel. I think sometimes when people are afraid of something it’s because they don’t know it.
You are doing something that is an obstacle by denying this possibility to your residents. They now have to travel to other cities, towns and regions to participate in the cannabis business.
Just because people unsubscribe doesn’t mean it becomes a permanent opt-out. There is still a possibility to educate.
Q: How would you describe your journey so far?
A: I’ve always thought that if we had the opportunity – like the little engine that could – we were thrown off the beaten track, we weren’t recognized, but we don’t do it for the recognition.
We do this to honor the plant to provide patience. A different approach to medicine to offer communities an ideal place to come and interact. We want to remove the transactional commitment. Building relationships is important and I think by building those relationships there will be a great opportunity to create a different brand.
Q: Many mainstream operators are still skeptical about including legal cannabis, what do you think?
A: It’s about leading by example. It’s about having a conversation where you meet people where they are. Have conversations about the value of why people may be in the legacy market for economic sustainability. If incarceration happens, the product is disrupted, when you are locked up, you are not supporting yourself and your families.
You have an opportunity in the legal market.
You are building a business that you can pass legally. One of the things people of color don’t have is generational wealth. It is an opportunity to create generational wealth that we can pass on to our children. You can’t leave anything illegal to your children.
Q: How does it feel in an American context to sit in a jazz club and talk about selling cannabis legally?
A: It’s crazy. I think it’s the American dream. Living the best American dream. I always say that our ancestors applaud, my mother, my parents are in Sion smiling. Sitting here now as a cannabis operator in my state is fantastic.
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