By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
CAMDEN – Philadelphia native Brian Cooper sees a future for African Americans in New Jersey’s cannabis industry – a big future.
He said while he believes the State of New Jersey has done things other states haven’t to make it more hospitable for Blacks and other minorities to enter the new field, Cooper said it will still be difficult.
Cooper said he his hoping he and his business partners will win a license to open a company in Camden, called Ganj-A-GoGo. He believes it will mean jobs for its mostly minority residents but also investments into the community.
“I am deeply concerned that even though the state has done so very much to make this process as equitable as possible that the lift might still be too tough for most marginalized people,” Cooper told Front Runner New Jersey. “The micro-licenses will help many in these groups, but these are small operations that are more akin to opening a small business and not designed nor structured to compete as a large cannabis business.”
Cooper said while he knows his company will be up against major operations with billions in revenue from other cannabis businesses around the country, he hopes the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission will leave the door open for small companies like his to walk through.
“So the story is a little like David and Goliath,” Cooper said. “New Jersey will need to seriously consider applications from comparatively under-funded applicants such as ourselves and see the potential for granting local New Jersey prospective licensees over the big guys,” Cooper said.
“Otherwise, we can’t compete with them. We have a solid plan for growth and development that will position us to compete with these companies in the next 4-6 years, but that can’t happen unless they see what we can be as opposed to what we are now. It is my hope that you shine some light on this. It will be very difficult for us to score as highly on some sections as these other applicants that are back by major cannabis players from out of state,” he added.
But if there is anyone who knows about overcoming tremendous odds, its Cooper. He saw his parents separate at an early age, watch his mother leave his stepfather when he became involved with drugs and then watched New York University hold his academic records for a decade when he could not pay off a bill he owed the school.
In all, Cooper went on to get his bachelor’s from Temple and his doctorate from Penn State. His hard work and determination won him the dogged support from classmates and faculty alike who came to back him through difficult times to earn his advance degrees.
Because of that support, Cooper said he knew he had to have that same determination to help and uplift others when he enters the cannabis field.
“As it stands right now, the vast majority of cannabis businesses in this country are owned and operated by whites (>80%) while 4.3% are owned by African-Americans,” Cooper said. “New Jersey has passed landmark legislation that not only legalized recreational cannabis, but in the language of the bill they explicitly state that this enterprise should seek to repair past harms to our communities.
“Our businesses brand is all about conscientious capitalism that is grounded in collaborative community engagement. We wish to direct a portion of our revenue towards Camden to use as it sees fit for community improvement, but we won’t stop there. We will pay wages that are at the top end for cannabis industry workers to promote company loyalty and have our employees grow with our firm as we grow.
Cooper said professors saw his potential and went to bat for him in college despite his financial struggles. They saw his work ethic and because supporters. He said he will do the same with the company.
“We also want to train young hungry and hardworking Black, Brown, and underprivileged people in the cannabis industry,” Cooper said. “At some point we want to encourage and financial back these individuals to start companies of their own. They’ll be required to also have a significant social engagement effort as well.
“This is the path to building black cannabis business owners not only in our own backyards here in New Jersey, but around the country. There has been a long history with our people of succumbing to the ‘Crab in the Barrell Mentality.’ We seek to shatter that paradigm. That holdover from slavery has kept our people down.
“We haven’t done enough to build up our own communities and this mechanism (cannabis) could be just the start of undoing that insidiously harmful tendency. We not only want to foster and promote black cannabis enterprises, but also promote educational initiatives, specifically in STEM,” he continued.
Today, Cooper and his Ganj-A-GoGo partners are seeking their standard cultivation and standard manufacturing licenses to start operating in New Jersey. He credits influential Gloucester County NAACP President Loretta Winters with helping build a ground well of support for his efforts.
“I am not sure if I or our company will win the two initial licenses we seek but I intend to do everything in my power to work towards that goal,” Cooper said. “I have put my life’s savings on the line to realize this goal and there have been times when I have questioned this decision. I realize that I am not only fighting for my own future, but I am also fighting for the potential future of marginalized residents of Camden, New Jersey state, and the U.S.A. as well.
“We are still hunting for investments to make this dream a reality. I am fighting to get the word out about our company and the amazing team that we have. I invite anyone listening who has the means to help us reach these goals to reach out to us and let us tell them about what we are doing.
“We are also open to any support from any industry partners that are on board with our ethos; starting a profitable cannabis business is the key, but there is no reason why we can’t do well for ourselves while doing good for others at the same time,” Cooper said.
He said more people his age demographic and younger are increasingly more conscious about where they spend their money.
“There is time for a change in this New Jersey community and the country at large. It is incumbent upon those of us with the energy and drive to help move the needle to creating responsible, ethical, and conscientious corporate entities; promoting sustainable business practices that do not exploit, but uplift.
“I am a huge advocate for the bud. It helped me profoundly. It allows me to calm myself after a long hard day. I have better sleep and less stress in my life as a result and I intend to share what I’ve learned with my community and the world,” he added.
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