Meet Jessica Gonzalez: Latina Lawyer Fighting for Cannabis Legalization & Minority Owners

New Jersey's Jessica Gonzalez fights for legalization and minority cannabis business owners
New Jersey's Jessica Gonzalez fights for legalization and minority cannabis business owners | Photo Courtesy of Jessica Gonzalez

Jessica Gonzalez is a Hispanic lawyer who has been fighting for New Jersey cannabis legalization and an equitable market. Public Question 1, the constitutional amendment legalizing adult-use cannabis, is on the state's November 3rd ballot where early voting has begun.

While confident that legalization will pass, especially given recent polling , Gonzalez is hoping people remember that Public Question 1 is on the back of the ballot.

“I’m just hoping people turn their ballot,” Gonzalez said. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Gonzalez is currently a leader of NJ CAN 2020, the pro-cannabis coalition formed to legalize adult-use cannabis in New Jersey. NJ CAN 2020 touts the NJ NAACP, the Latino Action Network, ACLU and other minority leaders as part of their effort to change the state's constitution.

Undoing the harm done by the War on Drugs has become a major talking point for Gonzalez and NJ CAN 2020, as a recent ACLU study found that Latinos and Black Americans are arrested four times more than whites for low level marijuana offenses.

This is especially poignant because many are unhappy that the national cannabis industry is dominated by White men who seem indifferent to that issue.

Many experts agree that New Jersey is a pivotal state in advancing federal legalization due to the "cannabis domino effect" . Simply put, approval in NJ forces mega states such as New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania to follow suit creating a multi-billion dollar East Coast market that will be hard for Congress to ignore.

Protecting Minority Cannabis Business Owners

Gonzalez was born in Ecuador and came to the United States when she was three years old, her family settling in New Jersey.

Once she became a lawyer, she began working in intellectual property (IP) protection and quickly grew restless.

“I began thinking to myself of the constants of my life, and that included my spiritual beliefs and cannabis, which I benefited from for years,” Gonzalez said.

“I wasn’t fulfilled using skills toward a cause that did not change or affect the lives of people,” she said.

So, Gonzales began attending cannabis industry events where she saw people with noteworthy company names and brands left open to liability. In her opinion, most of these owners assumed that neither their products nor ancillary businesses could receive IP protection.

“I was seeing lawyers giving terrible advice that you can’t acquire IP protection. I knew something was wrong,” Gonzalez said.

As a specialist in protecting the IP of corporate brands, Gonzalez quickly pivoted her skills into cannabis.

“I always tell folks to use the skills you have and pivot them,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez recommends that businesses seeking to protect their assets, such as education, merchandise or paraphernalia, take the necessary steps to receive trademark protection.

“Trademark registration is ownership, and ownership is everything right now,” she said.

Gonzalez said it is an area many do not consider until it becomes a problem.

Gonzalez ( left) speaks at the Hudson County NJ Chamber of Commerce on marijuana reform
Gonzalez ( left) speaks at the Hudson County NJ Chamber of Commerce on marijuana reform | Photo Courtesy of Jessica Gonzalez

“Folks don’t realize that for largest companies in the world, their trademark is a top three, most valuable asset,” Gonzalez said. “If you want to be a million-dollar company, you need to take steps to be one.”

Gonzalez said businesses should take inventory of their property assets, including websites, logos, graphics, brand name, inventions, trade secrets and proprietary recipes to understand what needs to be protected.

Gonzalez laments that minority entrepreneurs and business people are more susceptible to become victims of predatory contracts because they are not aware of what they are signing.

Gonzalez believes it’s “important to be able to have legal counsel look over it, so you don’t sign away your rights.”

She added fixing a contract is harder and leaves an entrepreneur more open to liability, especially in communities of color.

Gonzalez said her clientele is 85 percent minorities or women and include plant-touching businesses, CBD retailers, hemp farmers, cannabis educators, cannabis marketing firms, and product manufacturers.

A lot of people want to get involved, but lack the education on what it takes, and the money needed. So, I’ve seen a lot of dreams die due to lack of capital. That’s one thing I’d like to see change.

Jessica Gonzalez

“It's a privilege for me to work in this space. I believe in this plant and that makes a difference when you’re fighting for something you believe in."

Gonzalez said going to her Latina mother to tell her she was leaving her cushy job for cannabis was not an easy task. However, seven months into it when she found success, her mother said, “Mija (my daughter) I’m so proud of you.”

Her whole family is now on board and has already voted for legalization.

“It took me to break the mold on it, educate them on the benefits. If you can educate your community of friends and family, you can educate anybody,” she said.

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