With rumblings that New Jersey legislators could vote to legalize marijuana for recreational use within the next month, interest in launching cannabis businesses in the Garden State has never been higher.

Ellie Siegel, a Philadelphia lawyer and cannabis consultant, wants to ensure that minorities and women get a chance to participate in the state’s emerging weed economy. Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and Maryland are also weighing legalizing marijuana this year for adult use.

Siegel is the organizer behind the Accelerate Cannabis conference, scheduled for Feb. 19 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. The educational and networking symposium will feature a diverse set of national cannabis pioneers from a range of sectors: public policy, health, entertainment, insurance, sports, science, and government.

“We’re trying to do the authentic grassroots community building that will be necessary for a sustainable industry,” said Siegel. “That’s why we’re running promotions and outreach programs through the ACLU and universities from throughout the tri-state region.”

Siegel, CEO of Longview Strategic, said the average resident in New Jersey and Pennsylvania probably doesn’t know what opportunities exist for employment, starting a new cannabis business, or joining an established player. And that’s the impetus behind next week’s conference.

Panelists at the evening conference will include Jeff Brown, assistant commissioner for New Jersey Medicinal Marijuana program; Geoffrey Pope, a former New York Giants cornerback who is now the Philadelphia-based vice president for international insurance giant Aon Risk Solutions; and Dianna Houenou, of the ACLU of New Jersey.

Also speaking at the conference is Dasheeda Dawson, also known as “the WeedHead,” author of “How to Succeed in the Green Rush” and chief strategy officer for Minorities for Medical Marijuana. A cannabis entrepreneur and legalization advocate, Dawson runs a blog called WeedHead that chronicles her “personal journey and rise as a thought leader in the Cannabis industry.” Dasheeda received her MBA from Rutgers Business School and completed her undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology at Princeton University, according to her website.

Among others scheduled to appear are Evan Eneman, CEO of the Los Angeles-based ELLO Insights, a cannabis financial services company; representatives from U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s staff; Maruf Raza, of MNP LLC., an Ontario-based consulting firm that took six cannabis companies public on the Canadian stock exchange; and Bridget Hill-Zayat, Philadelphia-based lawyer for the national marijuana firm, the Hoban Law Group.

“The point of having these people is not just to have diverse faces, but to make sure they can have their voices heard and to put the audience in rooms with cannabis executives so they might have meaningful contact with them,” Siegel said.

The conference will run from 5 to 9 p.m. Tickets will be $299 at the door. Discounted tickets at $99 are available for students. For information, email info@acceleratecannabis.com.

“It’s tough to get people to attend if the panelists don’t look like them,” Siegel said. “It takes effort. But that’s why we’re super diverse.”


For more cannabis industry news, visit Philly.com/cannabis.