August 8, 2022

Entrepreneur and activist Tahir Johnson talks future of cannabis retail in New Jersey

Jay Rosenthal
August 8, 2022

On May 24, 2022, Tahir Johnson received his conditional license to open a dispensary in his home town of Ewing, New Jersey. But Johnson is no ordinary applicant—he's worked in and around the cannabis industry for years. Currently, he’s the Director of Social Equity & Inclusion at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).

Johnson sat down with me to talk about what it's been like experiencing the New Jersey cannabis license application process from the lens of an entrepreneur, having watched the process closely for many years as an advocate.

Johnson is seeking to open his Simply Pure dispensary in Ewing, New Jersey.

Full transcript

Jay Rosenthal [00:00:09] Tahir, thanks for making time. You are the busiest guy in cannabis. Is that true or false? 

Tahir Johnson [00:00:16] Oh, man, it might be true, man. I've been running around all day today. 

Jay Rosenthal [00:00:22] You got advocacy work for MPP, but you're also an entrepreneur in New Jersey. Let's talk about the New Jersey part first. Tell us where your application is, the status, and what you got planned. 

Tahir Johnson [00:00:33] Yes. Yes. I'm super excited about everything in New Jersey. I got my conditional approval for a retail dispensary license. Yes, right in my hometown, Ewing, New Jersey. One of my best friends since pre-school also got approval for his retail retail license also. So I'll be in Ewing. He'll be in Trenton. We're right next door to each other. I like to think we're going to have Mercer County on lock, so anybody around, y'all better watch out. But it's been really cool, man. I've gotten the local approval from my town to operate there, and now I'm working on trying to get the final site plan approval. So now I've just been learning all about real estate and construction and all this stuff. So it's very interesting. 

Jay Rosenthal [00:01:20] How does it how does it feel? I mean, obviously, we know you from the advocacy side. When I was at Business of Cannabis, we featured you on a couple of panels, a couple of speaking engagements. But working on the advocacy side and now working on the entrepreneur side, are there things you didn't know already that you're finding like eye opening? Or did you sort of have your eyes open going into this? 

Tahir Johnson [00:01:41] Yeah. You know, I think one of the one of the great things about the background that I've had in cannabis prior is that it has given me a lot of preparation. Most of these things I've seen or heard about it or kind of know how to operate, right? Like knowing the people, places to go. But now having this actual hands on experience, I think is something valuable. And I think it also gives me the actual, I guess, credibility now actually having gone through these things so that, you know, it's not just second hand. I'm actually seeing the difficulty about raising capital, the difficulties about just navigating the system. So for one, I'm super thankful about the experience that I've had and it's definitely been just a big boost to help me get somewhere, where I am today, for sure. 

Jay Rosenthal [00:02:30] I just like the idea of, like, you're an advocate. And, obviously, I imagine sort of you're talking to government officials and lobbying or just talking about policy typically, and now you're actually doing it on behalf of your own would-be dispensary. That's two sides of the same coin but it is interesting background and probably positions you real well for what's about to happen in Ewing. 

Tahir Johnson [00:02:54] Yeah. Well, the great part about it all is that, you know, this is kind of where I started out years ago in 2018, when I first started looking at the industry. I actually applied for licenses in 2019 before I kind of ever got on a national scene with advocacy. So in 2019, I had applied for licenses here in Jersey and in Maryland, where I live now. And then I started working at NCIA. So it was like my career got a whole other life, even though I never, like, won the licenses. So now it's just come full circle. And I've had the opportunity to, for one, like, use my background that I had in finance before cannabis to educate and share so much on the industry. But in turn, I've also learned so much from so many other people, like having the opportunity to hear from operators all around the country, like their experience going through their business. And then I think also relationships, right? Like the service providers from the companies who will be who I'll be getting products from, to folks like you, rigt. Like, you know, you're at Dutchie now, but we've known each other for years now and been working together. So it just gives me a lot of relationship capital coming in that I'm now helping to leverage and kind of hopefully will turn into a successful business. 

Jay Rosenthal [00:04:09] Yeah I was actually in New Jersey earlier in the week and and there is like, I think a palpable excitement what's happening in the state as the industry really ramps up. And I want to sort of get your thoughts because you've seen it all, you know, from years ago to now like, how do you think it's developed so far? Like, what do you think the next year looks like for the state and for you in particular? 

Tahir Johnson [00:04:29] Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think one of the things, like I said, our market just opened up in April, so it's been off to the races, right? Talk about, man, twelve dispensaries doing 24 million in the first month is amazing numbers. You know, I think the market is going to continue to grow, it's interesting. It probably isn't everywhere. It probably hasn't, I don't know if it's reached its peak yet, of what it can be. But you know, where we're situated, at least where I am in the state, we're close to Pennsylvania. I know they're some ways behind us in terms of their legalization. New York, on the other side of us, I'm excited to see what's happening there. Like, that's that's going to go crazy. And I know that will have some impact on what we do as well. But I'm just really excited about where the market is going. For one, the fact that New Jersey has at least successfully awarded so many conditional licenses to folks that are social equity, like minorities, women, disabled veterans, folks from impact zones is certainly different than, you know, the rollout you normally see in other places. So I'm just excited that we'll get to see so much of what the industry talks about wanting to do, actually hopefully come to fruition and hopefully it can be an example for other places as well, what kind of shape, what the future of the industry looks like.

Jay Rosenthal [00:05:48] Yeah, between what New Jersey has been doing, is doing now, what New York is planning on doing is, it's an exciting time obviously to be in the Northeast, but particularly in those two states as things ramp up. So we know about your advocacy. We know about what your plans are in New Jersey. I don't think we knew that you were a bird keeper. 

Tahir Johnson [00:06:07] Yeah. Oh, man. And you probably hear them talking every time I talk, but I got these two little parakeets over there, the blue one and the white one. That was one of my daughter's pandemic gifts. You know, we were cooped up in the house the whole time. And what'd they do... they just wanted birds. They want all the pets. First of all, they've been asking for hamsters. Now, all of this stuff. And like I said, talk about busy, I'm still in my Christmas pajamas because I just dropped the kids off in school. They've been running ever since. 

Jay Rosenthal [00:06:39] Maybe you're just really well prepared. Maybe you're just dressed in your Christmas pajamas so you're prepared. 

Tahir Johnson [00:06:42]  Christmas in August, right?

Jay Rosenthal [00:06:46] Good luck. I know you're incredibly busy. We'll look forward to following your journey. Thanks for making time and good luck. 

Tahir Johnson [00:06:51] Jay, thank you so much. I appreciate you, man. 

Jay Rosenthal [00:06:53] You got it. 

Tahir Johnson [00:06:54] Always a pleasure. 

Looking to open a cannabis dispensary in New Jersey?

For more information how Dutchie can help your cannabis business in New Jersey, contact Gina Silvestri.

About the author
Jay Rosenthal
Lead Content Producer @ Dutchie