NJ’s Suzan Nickelson launches first cannabis dispensary in the Garden State owned by an African American woman

Suzan Nickelson figured with her résumé in state government, combined with her family’s background in law enforcement and cannabis, she could launch her own medical cannabis dispensary.

So five years ago, she started crafting Holistic Solutions while working full time and raising her three kids as a single mom.

Despite the challenges, Nickelson has been driven to provide medical cannabis to patients and minorities distrustful of some traditional medicine after the onset of the country’s opioid crisis.

“I used my own seed money and started my company on my iPhone 6,” Nickelson told MarketWatch. “We felt that plant-based medicine was an option that many people should have, so we pursued that.”

Nickelson finally opened the doors of her 4,000-square-foot dispensary Holistic Solutions on Feb. 10 in Waterford Township N.J., a conservative municipality about 20 minutes outside Philadelphia, known as the home of Kellyann Conway.

While Holistic Solutions remains focused on the medical market for now, Nickelson also plans to apply for a state permit to expand into adult-use sales.

It’s the first black, woman-owned cannabis dispensary approved to open in New Jersey, after voters statewide approved adult-use cannabis in 2020 and medical use a decade before that.

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Other distinctions of the dispensary include its own strain called “Girlie”, named after Nickelson’s mother, Elaine Campbell-Cohen, who was diagnosed with cancer and told her daughter she had a year to live back in 1996.

From 1996 to her death in 2013, Nickelson’s mother used cannabis with support from her children. Campbell-Cohen was also known for making home-grown oils and other creations to help friends and family.

“My mother was an herbalist,” Nickelson said. “She knew about cannabis. She even met Bob Marley and smoked with him.”

In the 1970s, Nickelson’s mom was a model from Jamaica, who met her father, Joseph H. Cohen, a World War II veteran and law enforcement officer, in the Bahamas.

Nickelson grew up in Pleasantville, N.J., where her mother stopped growing cannabis due to her husband’s career.

“My mom brought cannabis with her,” Nickelson said. “He was working as a cop and she started a home grow in the backyard. My father was worried we’d be arrested and he’d lose his job and we’d go to jail, so she put away her herbalist side.”

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A 1995 graduate of Rutgers University, Nickelson worked in government for many years, most recently as an employee relations administrator at the New Jersey Labor Department, as well as Camden County Adult Protective Services and the state Attorney General.

She leveraged her experience in state government when she decided to apply for a medical cannabis license, despite competition from larger players that have moved into the state such as Curaleaf Holdings Inc.
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“I knew how the bidding process works with a scoring system,” she said. “I knew a lot about cannabis.”

Marissa Edmonds, chairwoman of New Jersey-based optical components maker Edmund Optics Inc., helped open up doors for her in the state’s business community, Nickelson said.

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Holistic Solutions also received backing from The Collective, which was formed in April, 2022, by Patrik Jonsson, former Northeast Regional president for Curaleaf. The Collective owns a minority stake in the business.

Nickelson is launching Holistic Solutions with 10 employees including women, minorities, veterans, and others who are normally underrepresented in the workforce. The business plans to keep about a third of its payroll for people living in the immediate area.

Holistic Solutions stocks its shelves with products from independent entrepreneurs such as Miss Grass cannabis and artisan jewelry from Jamaican designer Kristie Stephenson.

“When you walk in, you’ll see art, culture—you’ll see some great cannabis and you’ll feel welcome,” Nickelson said. “Cannabis teaches that out of many people we are one. We believe cannabis is a universal incubator. It’s a connector and we’re looking to connect.”

Looking ahead, she’s planning to establish an incubator program to help women and minorities and veterans launch businesses. Holistic Solutions is also pursuing cultivation and manufacturing licenses from the state.

Nickelson has support from her 15-year-old twins, and a 13-year-old daughter, as well as her brothers, nieces and cousins who work with her.

“We keep our family traditions going,” Nickelson said. “If my mother was alive she’d be here. She’s find this wildly amazing—to bring cannabis to patients.”

While New Jersey voters approved adult-use cannabis in 2020, only a limited number of dispensaries have opened to anyone 21 or older thus far.

Companies that were already operating with medical licenses have been allowed to open up adult-use sales in stores around New Jersey, but the Garden State is still rolling out its full adult-use license program.

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