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Education & Authenticity: A Look at Haute Box and the Grassroots Cannabis Forum

The Grassroots Cannabis Forum in action.

By Vickram Singh

Storm clouds were brewing over Asbury Park, New Jersey, with weather forecasts predicting scattered thunderstorms that would hit coastal towns during the weekend. Ian Nugent and the rest of Haute Box were undeterred from their plans to hold the second annual Grassroots Cannabis Forum on that particular Saturday. The forum is a free outdoor event that aims to educate people on the growing cannabis industry in New Jersey. Haute Box team consists of born-and-raised New Jerseyans who aim to educate and eventually become a part of the industry with a dispensary.

Vendors from across New Jersey set up shop at Kennedy Park, spending most of the day chatting up with locals and beach goers on their products and the industry itself. The vendors included artists, social justice activists, and companies showing off the best of their cannabis-based products. Food and drinks were sold while a DJ played music befitting a cannabis forum. Unfortunately, the day came to a premature close when the storm clouds also showed what they were brewing: a thunderstorm that rained out the forum. 

Ian Nugent was glad to be interviewed by Honeysuckle and provide more information on the goals of the forum, the future plans of Haute Box, and his views on cannabis legalization in New Jersey:

Vendors set up for the day. Courtesy of Haute Box

VICKRAM SINGH: What is your overall goal with the Grassroots Cannabis Forum? 

IAN NUGENT: To educate, normalize, and destigmatize cannabis. Looking at other social trends, such as the normalization of LGBT rights, one of the biggest things for that movement was people having a face to associate with it. Our thought process with the Forum is to bring cannabis, [the] cannabis industry, and cannabis culture out into the mainstream. Right in a park, free to the public. 

What’s one thing you learned from the first forum that you carried over to the recent one? 

I was born in 1993 and so I really didn’t have a lot of the D.A.R.E. Education, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of propaganda. Despite that, its effects are still very widespread and pronounced. That was a large consideration coming into the second Forum. We took that into account with our messaging and the way that we designed the event.

One thing I really appreciated about your event is that social justice is also a big part of it. What do you consider when you bring in people who are a part of a social justice movement?

Their authenticity. It’s really important for people to speak from a place of authenticity. With all the licensing going on, there’s a lot of people that try to position themselves as social justice proponents or social equality proponents, but really they’re just looking for a portion of the limelight or to get their name out there. When we look for speakers, we look at their long-term resume to see how long they committed to [social justice] and what their hardline positions are.

All signs point to cannabis. Courtesy of Haute Box

What is one thing you want people to walk away with when they go to your event?

That cannabis is a relatively innocuous [substance] with minimal negative externalities and a lot of positive externalities. This isn’t something that is addictive, leads to brain drain, or causes people to stagnate. On the other hand, there is no need for widespread panic when it shows up in your town in the form of a cultivation operation. 

Can you tell me more about your company, Haute Box?

Haute Box was formed about a year and a half ago with myself along with three of my close friends. We saw a great opportunity to combine our professional talents. We’re working towards acquiring a medical cannabis dispensary in the Central Jersey region. It’s very fulfilling that we get to work on a project that has a bigger consequences than just the bottom line for a quarterly projection. 

Do you plan on having more educational events through Haute Box?

That’s a big proponent of our organization. Once we’re licensed, we’re going to be doing weekly events that are centered around patient education and educating actual doctors so that they can be involved in the medical program. Cannabis research in the medical community is still in its infancy; we look to recruit doctors into the medical program. Having more clinical research will give more hard data on how cannabinoid systems works, how different combinations of cannabinoids can treat different illnesses, etc. Beyond that, we look to bring in other people to the medical program for known illnesses, such as anxiety and PTSD.

A lot of people use other recreational substances as a stress reliever. We want to keep people’s mind open to transitioning to cannabis. There is a lot less negative externalities associated with cannabis as opposed to using alcohol as a recreational substance. Looking back in human history, recreational substances have always been a part of our culture and I doubt they’re going away anytime soon. 

Any future plans for Haute Box?

Beyond looking forward to getting involved in the legal industry through a medical dispensary, we plan to have a lot of education events and being involved with our community. A part of it will be working with the jobs programs to do economic redevelopment. We have always viewed cannabis as an economic change agent with the ability to uplift an area, especially the area that we live in: between Neptune and Asbury. Asbury park is specifically a tourist destination.

If you will go more south in New Jersey to a place like Seaside Heights, which is also very tourist-based, after a little while it dries up and the town dies out. We would hate to see something like that happen here. We really have the ability to capitalize on. . . economic drivers such as cannabis to keep the town afloat. The same goes for Neptune, which is a really residential town with the main economic force being a local hospital. Trying to diversify what is in the town, such as jobs and things like that, can really provide long term stability to a community.  

A beautiful day for a forum. Courtesy of Haute Box

What is your opinion on the current status of legalization in New Jersey?

To be honest with you, I feel it’s very silly. The handling of vertically integrated license[s] is damaging to an industry that’s getting a start while being suppressed by government laws and regulations beforehand. It sets up the market for inequality going forward. When you look at the licensing procedure and see [the government] giving leeway to people that have larger accesses, capital, or previous operating experience, I feel it’s silly. Regardless of where you look in the country, it’s still a nascent industry. It’s not very old and the pioneers of the industry are still alive and they figured out how to get the operations going. I see no reason why the state, when opening their markets, should look to bring in previous operators as opposed to letting those same states figure it out and get the market up and running.

I understand the state’s interest in having a stable market in a stable industry. On the same token, when you work to do that by giving away the industry to multi-state operators or large conglomerates, you’re taking away equity from New Jersey residents. When you take that equity away, it puts people at a disadvantage for economic development. Cannabis legalization is such a multifaceted issue that touches on so many different aspects of our lives. I feel is very short sighted to completely neglect that one point in favor of having a little bit more initial stability.

You can learn more about Haute Box and its events through their website and by following them on social media: @hauteboxnj

Based in New Jersey, Vickram Singh is a Staff Editor for Honeysuckle Magazine. He is also the managing editor and staff writer for The Medium, the satirical newspaper at Rutgers University, where he currently studies.


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