NJ Cannabis Business Awards 2022: Community Game Changer winner revealed


On June 9, NJ Cannabis Insider will host the Garden State’s first-ever Cannabis Business Awards gala, celebrating the individuals and companies that helped shape the industry. The formal affair at the Carteret Performing Arts Center will be unlike anything seen before in New Jersey’s cannabis space. A Who’s Who of established and up-and-coming cast of power players will come together for one night to recognize excellence and achievements in the space over the last 12 months. Get on the invite list here.

While winners in eight categories will be revealed on the evening of the gala, we are announcing the Publisher’s Choice awards in advance. Today, we put a spotlight on the inaugural winner of the Community Game Changer of the Year: Jessica F. Gonzalez.

Jessica F. Gonzalez is an attorney for Hiller, PC and serves as outside general counsel for Minorities for Medical Marijuana, Inc. She worked in the trenches in the successful campaign to legalize cannabis use in New Jersey and launch a state-licensed market.

Gonzalez specializes in intellectual property law and has guided entrepreneurs through the state’s medical and adult-use application process. But she may be best known for work on behalf of Black, Latino and other marginalized groups who are struggling to get a toehold in this fiercely competitive industry.

Her advocacy at public hearings and behind the scenes has shaped policy decisions around the licensing process.

”She’s an extremely smart and knowledgeable attorney who is passionate about making an inclusive cannabis industry in New Jersey,” Imani Dawson, also from Minorities for Medical Marijuana, said in an interview with NJ Cannabis Insider in 2020, when it named her one of the industry’s earliest influencers. “Legalization will be better because of her efforts.”

Gonzalez and her family emigrated from the highlands of Ecuador to Jersey City when she was 3. By the time she graduated high school, she had moved eight times in lower-income neighborhoods, which allowed gang-related crime to flourish. Gonzalez said she pursued a career as a lawyer for the knowledge and financial security she craved as a child.

”I wanted to become an attorney because growing up, I felt a sense of insecurity and I didn’t have the tools to defend myself in a world that’s constantly changing,” she said. “When I looked at the law, it pervades every area of a person’s life,” she said. “Having a good understanding of the law would always help me.”

Gonzalez was the first in her family to graduate from a four-year college, Boston University, and the first to complete graduate school, Suffolk University Law School in Boston.She was just recognized as a Cannabis Law Trailblazer by the National Law Journal.

In 2021, she also made NJBIZ’s Next Generation of Leaders list, as well as being awarded the “Rising Star” award by the New Jersey Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Since NJ Cannabis Insider started naming the top influencers in the cannabis industry three years ago, she has made the list each time.

Earlier this year, Gonzalez was named by High Times among the 100 most influential figures in the nation’s cannabis space.

“I wanted to fight for something that would have not just an impact on my life but on other people’s lives,” she told NJ Cannabis Insider. “I have never been afraid of change because I had to undergo so much change when I was younger.”

The Community Game Changer of the Year award is sponsored by The Cannabist, Columbia Care’s retail stores serving New Jersey’s medical and adult-use markets. Learn more here.

Enrique Lavin is publisher and editor of NJ Cannabis Insider, a weekly subscriber-based online trade journal and events group produced by NJ Advance Media, which also publishes NJ.com, The Star-Ledger and other affiliated papers. Follow him on LinkedIn.



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