This story is part of a series of profiles, The CannaInfluencers: The people shaping the cannabis industry in the Garden State. Written by NJ Cannabis Insider reporters, the profiles will publish the weeks leading up to the Nov. 3 election, when New Jersey voters will decide whether to legalize recreational, adult-use cannabis.
Some people figure out at an early age what they should do with their lives.
Fruqan Mouzon, 50, knew at age 7 he would become a lawyer — primarily because that’s what his aunt said he should do.
“I got in trouble at my aunt’s house — I was playing catch with my sister and we broke a lamp,” Mouzon said. On the spot, he said, “I had a perfect argument” about why it was actually his aunt’s fault for insisting they play inside long after the rain stopped and his sister’s fault for missing his “perfect” throw.
“My aunt said, ‘You are better than Perry Mason.’ I don’t think I knew what that meant,” he said.
“When I was growing up, there was pressure (about) what you are going to be when you grow up, and you better have an answer. It’s something you had to start thinking about in the 1st and 2nd grade,” said Mouzon (whose names are pronounced FROO-kwan mooz-ON). “So I started saying I am going to be a lawyer and I never stopped saying it.”
Twenty years after graduating Seton Hall University School of Law, the Newark native served as assistant counsel to Gov. Jon Corzine. He was named president of the Garden State Bar Association, the state’s African-American bar, in 2012. He made partner at Gibbons P.C., one of the largest and most influential legal and lobbying firms in the state. He was general counsel to the Senate Majority Office from 2013 to 2019.
Along the way, Mouzon also became one of the most influential figures in New Jersey’s tortured marijuana history. He counseled state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, as they drafted marijuana legalization.
“We started with a shell of the legislation that was 60 pages and we thought we had accounted for everything,” Mouzon said. When it was amended and grew to 200 pages, “I thought we had it right.”
Mouzon said he intended to stay in the public sector to see the legalization bill through, but the socially conservative members of the Democratic caucus would not budge. Sweeney decided in March 2019 to delay a vote on the bill, and in November, announced voters would decide whether to legalize cannabis.
Mouzon left the Senate Majority Office in June 2019 to chair the Cannabis Practice Group at McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter.
Scutari calls Mouzon “a trusted adviser and friend.”
“As an African-American man growing up in this country, he brought a perspective to the discussion of updating our marijuana laws and melded that perspective with his educational and legal experience and his keen intellect and down-to-earth personality,” Scutari said. “He was on the ground not only for the marijuana debate but also a variety of other issues to come before the Senate Judiciary committee.”
Mouzon said he understood he brought a crucial social and economic justice perspective to the legalization bill deliberations — one that would include, for instance, micro-licenses that enable people “who don’t have $10 million in the bank” to vie for a piece of the cannabis industry and expunge past arrests and convictions.
“We did a lot to make sure people of color get included,” he said.
The fact that cannabis has become a focal point of his career is somewhat accidental. Mouzon said marijuana never personally or professionally interested him until Scutari declared legalization a priority. He said he considers his work on the Senate’s revamped sexual harassment policy among his most noteworthy achievements.
“I am more about freedom. I don’t know if I am more Libertarian than Democrat,” he said.
Mouzon is no political animal. He is one of the rare, high-level government appointees who did not get his start on a campaign. This and his “even-keeled” style has earned him trust and clout in Trenton, said Jay Redd, an attorney and director for government affairs at Gibbons.
“Folks would seek him out to get his counsel and unique perspective…He didn’t have the political weight that impacted his view,” said Redd, the former Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel to the New Jersey Senate Majority Office.
“During the whole process with (the legalization) bill, he was a steady force on it,” Redd said. “There were a lot of starts and stops, a lot of groups weighing in, but you never saw him upset. That is helpful, especially on an issue folks are so passionate about.”
Mouzon’s first name literally means “one who distinguishes between truth and falsehood.” His sense of order and fairness permeates into his hobbies. For a time, he was a boxer. “It shaped who I am – my desire to have a judge and a decision and an adversary.” he said. He replaced boxing with training his daughter, Akilah, who wanted to play softball. From the time she was 12 years old, “every vacation had to to do with going to tournaments and games,” he said.
Newlyweds Mouzon and his wife, Rohie, share a home in Harrison with his daughter, a 22-year-old recent college graduate who coaches softball and teaches pitching, he said.
Anyone who has worked closely with Mouzon knows what’s most important to him is his relationship with his daughter, Redd said.
“First and foremost, he is the biggest cheerleader for his daughter, a collegiate softball player. He was always trying to be there to support her. When the University of Illinois came out with softball cards, he showed everybody,” he said.
Mouzon’s pragmatic, zen style is an antidote to volatility that often surrounds the cannabis industry. He says he’s confident the ballot question will pass, and the bill he helped construct is a solid blueprint.
“It will become an accepted part of society,” he said of cannabis. “When I was In law school we were debating same-sex marriage in moot court. There was a large contingent of people who laughed at that. I feel the same thing now.”
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Susan K. Livio may be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio.