Fifty years from now, Evan Nison wants nothing more than to be able to look back and be proud of his contributions to the cannabis industry.
If he keeps moving at the pace he set at 18, there will be a lot to look back on.
“This industry only exists because of decades of fighting by people who care about nothing but policy and justice. That is the reason we have this industry, and we are responsible for helping create it,” says Nison.
“I always want to make sure it’s something we can be proud of in [years to come].”
Nison, 27, is the founder of NisonCo, a cannabis industry public relations firm whose mission is to “connect leaders in the legal recreational and medical marijuana industries to influential and impactful journalists across the U.S. and the world.”
He’s also a co-founder of Whoopi & Maya – the line of cannabis products designed by Whoopi Goldberg and Maya Elisabeth to combat menstrual discomfort – as well as the executive director of NORML New Jersey, a member of the Board of Directors of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and the youngest member of the Board of Directors of NORML.
Needless to say, Nison has his hands full. Fortunately, it’s nothing new for the resident of Sayreville, New Jersey. He got his start in the cannabis space nearly a decade ago in his hometown of East Brunswick, NJ, where he organized a ballot initiative to make adult marijuana offenses the lowest priority for law enforcement.
His penchant for drug policy reform – steered by a deep-rooted belief that “prohibition policy is dumb” – led him to California in his junior year of college in 2010. It was here that he helped campaign for Proposition 19 – also known as the Regulate, Control & Tax Cannabis Act, which was defeated by 53.5 percent of voters.
He then travelled to New York, where he helped pass the 911 Good Samaritan Law, which allows people to call law enforcement without fear of arrest if they or someone they know is having a drug overdose.
“I basically got my start [in the cannabis space] as a pro bono lobbyist, which is also where I learned public relations; holding press conferences in the capital buildings with medical marijuana patients and things like that,” Nison tells Civilized.
His talents caught the eye of cannabis-focused agriculture company Terra Tech, who hired him to help lobby for Assembly bill 2628 to legalize industrial hemp in New Jersey. Nison got to work “sending them so many reporters who were coming to me as a means to advocate”, and the idea for NisonCo was born.
The company – comprised of either former or current social advocates – represents “most of the industry leaders in the space” and maintains roughly 1,700 active relationships with reporters who cover cannabis, according to Nison.
He sees the job they do as its own form of advocacy, a sort of graduated version of his work as a teenager and younger adult.
“It’s very important to both educate the public and get institutions on board with legalization. For instance, I think that getting the word out about Terra Tech becoming one of the first publicly traded marijuana companies was big in terms of getting Wall Street on board; just like how letting women know about Whoopi & Maya was really important,” says Nison, who says the company is “responsible for hundreds of articles a year now.”
“Making these stories easier for reporters to write so that they write more of it helps move the needle quicker.”
At the end of the day, seeing (and helping) the cannabis industry grow and progress is what makes it all worth it for Nison.
“This is one of the first industries to be born by a social movement,” he says. “You read about social movements growing up in school, but being in the room and talking to people and seeing how a social movement actually happens and succeeds is [something else.]
“Being able to witness a major historical social movement from the vantage point that I’m lucky enough to be able to is really cool.”