Four businesses look to sell marijuana in Red Bank


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RED BANK – Over a decade ago, Caryn Cohen was one of the first wave of patients allowed access to medical marijuana. 

“I was one of the few six diseases that the state said you can be a patient for this,” said Cohen, who has ulcerative colitis.

“I was early approved in the program, so I have really seen the change.”

Cohen said she remembers the lack of supply when the dispensaries began opening. And then a number of Canadian companies started buying up the local market.

Now, with New Jersey legalizing cannabis for recreational use, Cohen and her husband Andy Zeitlin are hoping to open a cannabis store with two other couples at 9 West Street next to Red Bank Liquors. 

They are one of four businesses that have asked the borough council to pass resolutions stating their potential retail cannabis business would be allowed by local laws.  

Cohen and Zeitlin have formed Canopy Crossroad LLC. The other three companies include RBFC LLC, The Next Chapter Market LLC and the Scarlet Reserve Room, which is already set up at 3 East Front St. offering cigars and CBD products, or cannabidiol, a chemical found in marijuana which lacks the psychoactive ingredient that produces a high.

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While some municipalities have limited the number of retail establishments they will allow, Red Bank has not. Instead, in the two-square-mile town, they have limited where the businesses can operate. The town has excluded areas within a 1,000-foot buffer of places including schools, parks, housing authority properties, public or private youth centers and swimming pools. 

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Zeitlin, who has a background in chemistry and was a founding member of the pharmaceutical company Celgene Corp., described the current moment in state cannabis history as “a period of dramatic change.” 

He pointed to the fact that banks are not allowed to give loans to cannabis businesses because marijuana is still mostly illegal on the federal level.  

“In general, it’s a bit of a struggle,” Zeitlin said. “It’s mostly private money. There are some lending facilities that are not banks that do lend basically on business loans. So, it’s a work in progress.”

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Cohen said Canopy Crossroad was started with their own money put up front before they were able to attract investors. 

Cohen said she has worked in marketing for 26 years and had moved to Red Bank in 1999. She married Zeitlin in 2019 and they live directly across the Navesink River in Middletown.

They said they are afraid smaller, newer and more local cannabis businesses may not be able to compete with the large multi-state operators (MSOs) who have more experience working in the budding legal cannabis industry.

“It’s a market reality,” Zeitlin said. “This is true in every new state. … (The) industry has to be built. … The MSOs are going to go wherever the market is and without some protections for the local industry to grow, they would basically dominate.”

Zeitlin, who had previously tried to start a medical marijuana business in 2018 when he lived in Maplewood, said his new company was looking to apply as a microbusiness to the state. Applying as a microbusiness means that the state retail cannabis license would cost $1,000 instead of $10,000.

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He said Canopy Crossroad is locally owned and they intend to employ less than 10 people. The store, which they leased in late 2021, is less than 2,500 square feet. 

“There was a couple of things that the New Jersey law did cool, which was social equity, social justice,” Cohen said. “So that’s minority owned, women owned, impact zones and one of (the other things) they did that was unique was this microbusiness. … We’re local people, we have partners that are local, we have investors that are local. So, we’re not some big MSO.” 

Zeitlin emphasized, “A town cannot exclude an MSO. All the town can do is create opportunities for smaller businesses to come in.” 

In addition to getting a state cannabis license, businesses need to apply for a municipal license. 

Zeitlin had previously addressed the borough council, arguing that the Red Bank municipal license fee of $10,000 was high for businesses applying for the state microbusiness. 

In previous borough council meetings, Red Bank councilwoman Kate Triggiano and the borough government’s lawyer Gregory Cannon expressed concern that the municipal license fee was too high. 

In a March 23 meeting, Cannon said, “One of the concerns with the underlying legislation was that who in New Jersey was going to be able to compete against the equivalent of Kraft Foods that comes here from California.”

The $10,000 municipal cannabis licensing fee came from looking toward nearby Tinton Falls and Eatontown, who both have flat $10,000 licensing fees, according to Shawna Ebanks, director of Community Development, during a Dec. 1, 2021, meeting.

Looking at other Monmouth County towns that have allowed recreational marijuana sales, Keyport has a flat licensing fee of $5,000, while Freehold Borough has a $10,000 licensing fee for cannabis cultivators and manufacturers and a $5,000 licensing fee for cannabis wholesalers, distributors and retailers. 

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Red Bank Mayor Pat Menna said the borough council has been looking into creating a tier system that would take into account microbusinesses. 

“It’s a process where you have to get a lot of ducks in a row,” Zeitlin said. Since deciding to start a cannabis business, Zeitlin and his partners have simultaneously secured a site that would be legally allowed to operate in Red Bank while figuring out and completing all the paperwork for licensing required. 

Cohen said “Our mission is to just educate and, in some cases, re-educate the local community. (To) take away the taboo from it.” 

She said, “Because I love my town, because I love the concept of locally owned, I am all in on all this.”

Olivia Liu is a reporter covering transportation, Red Bank and western Monmouth County. She can be reached at oliu@gannett.com.



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