Jessica Gonzalez is one of New Jersey’s most influential weed advocates, even accounting for those a little older than 40 years old. A cannabis and trademark attorney at Hiller PC, she became the state’s first cannabis professor in 2021 when Hudson County Community College offered her a job teaching marijuana law.
Gonzalez says her advocacy began at family dinner tables circa 2013. She formally became involved in the regulated cannabis industry in 2017. Since then, she’s helped shape cannabis policy on the statutory, regulatory and municipal levels.
“I’m grateful that I get to spend my days studying cannabis, teaching about cannabis, advocating for better cannabis policy and assisting cannabis companies,” Gonzalez said. “In the end, the common denominator in everything I do is education. Teaching energizes me because I enjoy figuring out how to transmute complex ideas and policies into digestible bits of information that anyone can add to their toolbox.”
At HCCC, Gonzalez teaches “Justice In Cannabis,” where she makes sure students know they’re in a public speaking and advocacy course, not just a history class.
“Seventy percent of my students identify as Latino and Black,” Gonzalez said. “Since they come from the communities targeted for cannabis, it’s imperative I arm them to become the best advocates they can be for themselves and their communities. I send them to their dinner tables to begin their advocacy, back where I started.”
The majority of Gonzalez’s advocacy is in the social justice and equity arenas, where she helps forge meaningful pathways for minority communities to participate in the regulated cannabis industry. She led the social impact committee for NJCAN2020, a coalition that oversaw one of the most successful cannabis legalization campaigns in the country.
Her team negotiated lower application fees, non-competitive licensing, priority for minority groups, no caps on licensing and earmarking the majority of taxes for communities ravaged by the criminalization of cannabis.
“As lawyers, we practice without precedent, making it a dynamic, challenging and rewarding space to work in,” Gonzalez said. “Given the nascency of this industry, young attorneys have a tremendous opportunity to grow within it, as I did. If you’re comfortable practicing within gray spaces and you believe in the plant, this is the industry for you.”
This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.