Budding industry - 420 Expo, a chance to educate the ‘canna-curious’
The 420 Expo was held Saturday at the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center in Edison.
Organizers of the weekend event said it was more than just a celebration of marijuana, but a chance to break its stigmas.
A man who was recently behind bars for marijuana said events like this will help normalize the industry.
Cape May resident Humberto Ramirez is finally back home with his family after spending two years behind bars for a non-violent cannabis offense just after New Jersey residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana.
Ramirez said the punishment didn't fit the crime.
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"Of course, I was doing something wrong, but I don't think I deserved what I got for it," Ramirez told News 12 New Jersey as he reunited with his wife Brooke Popplewell.
As the industry continues to take shape in the Garden State, Ramirez hopes events like the 420 Expo will bring the industry and its inequities to the forefront.
Ramirez's sentence came after the decriminalization of adult-use marijuana in New Jersey.
He remained in jail after an objection from a judge slowed the possibility of a shorter sentence. Ramirez said some are still facing tough sentences.
"You still got people getting locked up for it, getting harsh sentences like it's something different, like it's something worse, other drugs. We have to do something to stop this," he added.
Last year, the Attorney General's office issued a directive that revised statewide guidelines concerning the waiver of mandatory minimum sentences in nonviolent drug cases. The intention was to ease sentences, including retroactively.
"New Jersey had already voted recreational marijuana legal, so our local authorities did not listen," Popplewell said.
Though New Jersey legalized adult use recreational marijuana earlier this year, some say there's still a lot of uncertainty around it.
The organizers of the expo said they're heavy on educating those who are what they call "canna-curious."
"It's all about learning. I want to see what it's about. I heard it's medical, it helps people, so why not?" said Gunther Gilser, of North Bergen.
"Over the course of time, certain things grow into the fabric of society," said 420 Expo co-creator, J. Handy. "When you look at cannabis, I think the natural progression is to be able to kind of let it become less of an issue and more a piece of the fabric of societal norms."
Back in Cape May, Ramirez and Popplewell are hopeful for the industry, but still fearful for those in Black and brown communities still being stigmatized.
"So I think now because they're not afraid to hide behind the wall anymore, it's breaking the stigma that way, but as far as criminally, unfortunately, Black and brown mainly are going to continue to face the trauma that they have been in the past," Popplewell said.
Many say New Jersey still has a long way to go, but events like the 420 Expo help to increase awareness and acceptance of the budding industry. However, they say it will take some time before it's fully accepted as the norm.