So, I’m currently putting this issue together from the 2022 NJ Planning and Redevelopment Conference in New Brunswick.
I know, I know, the first time I’m writing from a conference that’s not solely dedicated to cannabis, but here’s the reason why. Municipalities are going to make or break this market, especially in terms of smaller operators and craft growers.
How municipalities talk about planning and development is crucial. Cannabis businesses need to exist in that ecosystem of planning and development to be normalized. In other words, municipalities are key to the expansion of the legal program — and how equitable the industry is actually going to be.
There was a panel devoted to cannabis by some familiar faces on the frontlines of working with towns: Charles Latini, Darrin Chandler Jr., Michael McQueeny and Mayor Janice Kovach.
The panel ended the conference, so in true form they saved the best for last — not the best for wanting to get the issue out earlier.
Now onto what’s pulling up in this issue.
My reporter’s notebook is up with takeaways from the conference and how it affects the cannabis space. Also, there’s an article on corruption allegations in Morristown on how applicants are being selected.
When it came to the municipalities we knew this day was going to come, and something tells us we’ve hit the tip of the green iceberg. A lot of industry sources in the legal field are also saying that lawsuits are all but inevitable so … we’ll be keeping an eye out — and seeking out as usual.
We have a Q&A with the Paramus mayor who is fighting his own city council to let cannabis in town.
We also dropped Suzette Parmley’s NJ.com story announcing the opening of three more dispensaries in the state this week. And, we included an informative talk CRC Executive Director Jeff Brown had at the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association’s Lunch & Learn series with Ed DeVeaux.
Some good events are coming up (don’t forget to email us with your event). We have our upcoming meetup at The Asbury in Asbury Park on July 14. Next week, though, we’ll be in Jersey City for an event hosted by Cannademix, which has recently partnered with the Hudson County Community College. More details on that event are inside.
Lastly, we have the complete list of winners of our inaugural cannabis awards.
Happy Juneteenth, everyone! The state marks the holiday tomorrow, but the federal government celebrates it on Monday. Our company is taking Monday off.
Until next time …
— Jelani Gibson
Municipalities talk cannabis and equity initiatives at conference
In this week’s Reporter’s Notebook, we have some key takeaways from the 2022 Planning and Redevelopment Conference. The cannabis panel was so deep we’re dedicating a separate takeaway for it in next week’s issue. It was a mixture between conversations and workshop. Below are the overall trends I heard that may be affecting the cannabis space as the municipalities move on redevelopment.
Politicians run by election cycles. The average election for a city council member can be as little as 1,500 votes or less. What does that mean? Hundreds of a vocal minority can overrule something that was popular on a statewide level. Panel members spoke about the difficulties of implementation and education.
“Where is the state plan?”, said American Planning Association president Charles Latini. “The document is supposed to coordinate with the municipalities and educate and bring on new industries.”
“There are towns that will always be opted out … that’s fine,” said Clinton Mayor Janice Kovach. “There are a number of municipalities that are afraid.”
“We’ve not done webinars on the product and implementation.”
“We just need a state sanctioned educational program for the towns,” said Premium Genetics owner Darrin Chandler Jr.
State v. Olenowski affecting some of the opt-outs
In the same way that the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission doesn’t want to get involved in workplace impairment until the Supreme Court makes a ruling on the case challenging the scientific validity of how police officers measure impairment, a lot of police chiefs and communities are also keeping an eye on the case as well.
There’s a state surplus — lobbyists are getting their war chests ready
There’s currently a state surplus that New Jersey is bragging about and you better believe that every department and influential organization is going to be lobbying to get a slice. Lobbyists and mayors alike are stacking their government relations war chests to convince each legislator that their specific issue is what should get attention. The playing field was already crowded in the densest state in New Jersey. It’s about to get a lot more crowded and competitive.
The housing crisis in affordability is also competing with cannabis real estate.
A consistent concern brought up throughout the conference was affordable housing and the limited amount of real estate and land to build it on. Some at the conference even felt that the contentiousness of cannabis meetings took up so much time, it’s causing council members to have to table other items.
Some municipal meetings have been hours long on the issue of cannabis. Some municipal officials are welcoming and others are coming to the conclusion that if they spend their time fighting for cannabis 24/7 it will not allow them to focus on other issues like infrastructure and climate change.
Cannabis can help with those things. Cannabis can help with climate change. Community initiatives — cannabis can help with that, too. The key to getting in may be understanding what else municipalities are receiving pressure on and relieving that pressure through more creative community host agreements beyond the occasional donation to the local soup kitchen.
Oligopolies on top of oligopolies
It’s no secret the cannabis market is an oligopoly. The thing is, the real estate market can work the same way. New Jersey has 565 municipalities. That means a lot of small, but dense areas in some parts of the state and some sprawling towns in others parts. That makes a market ripe to be dominated by large real estate operators. Large real estate can often favor the largest and most profitable partners.
Challenging home rule
The concept known as “home rule” runs New Jersey’s identity. Another question that’s receiving scrutiny is — should it be left up to municipalities?
If all of them participated in the War on Drugs, then why make healing the harm from the drug war a choice? Home rule has been criticized by many activists for exacerbating wealth disparity and empowering NIMBYism. Is the lack of cannabis equity going to force the limits of treasuring home rule into the light? It’s a question to ponder.
— Jelani Gibson
Cannabis corruption allegations in Morristown
A cannabis applicant in the Morristown selection process is accusing the municipality of favoring an out-of-state operator with deep pockets to the detriment of New Jersey applicants.
Donna Mastrantonio, the applicant making the claim, said Morristown scored applicants arbitrarily and put in municipal approval requirements that would have made it difficult for most small and conditional license applicants to compete.
The selection of Massachusetts-based Uma Flowers is at the center of the dispute. The company asserted they were the most qualified.
“There were several applications for the Morristown license, however, we believe that only Uma Flowers has the perfect mix of professional backgrounds, experience as an operator, optimal site location, and [are] women and minority owned,” the company said in an emailed statement.
In a scoring sheet provided by Mastrantonio, some of the requirements included requiring applicants to have experience with banking in the cannabis industry and a letter from a financial institution stating awareness of the activities.
Other listed requirements included experience in supporting or conducting clinical research and previous experience in highly regulated industries.
The requirements create a landscape where only cannabis companies that have already been operating would beat out applicants trying to start their business for the first time, Mastrantonio said.
The situation brings up a catch-22 that has frustrated multiple applicants and advocates across New Jersey.
Municipalities want the most experienced businesses, but since the market has been controlled by an oligopolistic collection of larger companies, the only ones who meet such a mandate are the ones who were previously operating in New Jersey or other states.
The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission has not established previous experience as a cannabis operator as a condition for granting licenses at the state level and has held multiple seminars encouraging applicants from disadvantaged populations to apply.
In order to receive a license from the state however, applicants must be approved by municipalities that can come up with their own selection process; the commission has little say in that process or equity practices due to the way legislators wrote the law.
Morristown Business Administrator Jillian Barrick said the municipality was in the current process of reviewing appeals.
“In order to select the appropriate applicant for a cannabis retail establishment, Morristown went through an extensive selection process looking at a myriad of factors. At the conclusion of that process, one of the six applicants was selected by the Town Council,” she said. “Shortly thereafter, four of the five applicants that were not selected filed appeals of that decision and those appeals are pending.
We cannot comment on the substance of an appeal at this time,” Barrick continued. “However, we are currently in the process of scheduling those appeals so that the unsuccessful applicants have an opportunity to be heard by the Town Council. Morristown is committed to having an open and transparent process and will continue to do so through this local appeal.”
Mastrantonio’s allegations are also largely similar to the previous criticism the state received in the scoring of applications for medical licenses before they switched over to a new system for adult-use licenses when the legalized market fully opened up.
“You can’t leave this kind of thing up to the towns,” Mastrantonio said. “It’s bound to create unfair treatment, especially in this area of Jersey where everything is pretty much crooked as it is and there is a lot of money to be had. Towns are taking complete advantage of people. I hope something is done about this.”
Mastrantonio also cited restrictive zoning ordinances and real estate discrimination as compounding barriers for applicants that make it easier for towns to lock out smaller operators from the market.
The market is all the more smaller due to municipal opt-outs.
Zoning ordinances traditionally require that cannabis operators stay a certain amount of feet from schools, churches and daycare centers — requirements that have also come under criticism by operators who charge that the practice is unfair considering that many bong shops, bars, nightclubs and liquor stores aren’t subjected to the same restrictive treatment.
“Between the way these towns zoned the areas for cannabis business to begin with in their ordinances and the fact that most landlords do not want it in their buildings, getting in is already challenging for people like me,” Mastrantonio said. “Now we have the towns pulling this stuff on top of it.”
Mastrantonio said the industry’s promises of being friendly to smaller businesses and conditional applicants are falling short when it comes to the on-the-ground reality of smaller applicants competing with larger and more established operators.
“[We] can’t go up against them and the towns won’t allow us to either — By letting them in and pushing us out. I’ve already spent close to $20,000 and I’m nowhere.”
— Jelani Gibson
(Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media)
We speak to Paramus mayor Richard LaBarbiera about his fight to bring cannabis to his municipality, highlighting how even the support of top city officials is still often not enough to get some municipalities to opt-in immediately. Opt-ins just don’t require the mayor’s support, they require city council officials support and vice versa. Here, LaBarbiera gives an inside look on his logic and why even he, as someone who doesn’t engage with cannabis still wants it in town.
Q: So, what’s been going on in Paramus?
A: I’ve been advocating the benefits. We have neighboring communities that are selling it freely and capitalizing as a result — in proximity to Paramus, the retail capital of the nation and we’ve lost this opportunity and dropped the ball.
Now, the governing body has pushed back with only medicinal use. I’m scratching my head. Why aren’t we taking advantage of the economic benefits and bringing that money back into the community?
Q: Where do you think this disagreement comes from?
A: I think people have been narrow minded. They keep saying it should not be sold here, it should not be legal — but it is legal, it’s not going anywhere. You have a choice. You can stick your head in the sand and ignore it or you can embrace it and take advantage of the economic benefits. I also think whatever concerns people have about it being sold in the town is greatly overblown.
Q: I’ve been at contentious municipal meetings before where detractors often cite the plant as harmful to the community in a variety of ways, is that what you’re running into here?
A: I’ve run into similar nonsense and I’ve called them all red herrings. [Critics] say if the adjoining community is selling it, make sure those people don’t drive to our town. Who’s to say our residents aren’t patronizing these places?
It’s a very vocal minority which I think are short-sighted and will be the same people that complain about the budget in the following breath.
Q: What’s the largest cause of such pushback?
A: Failing to get over the fact that it’s legal. I think people can’t come to grips with it being legal and they still think saying no will change that. It’s not going anywhere. Once you have the conversation with these people and tell them of the economic benefits and that they should jump on it and embrace, instead of continuing to push off, why not take advantage of it?
Q: What do you think made the council vote it down?
A: I hate to say it, but I think it was out of fear or retribution from a very small group. I think it’s short sighted and the larger concern should be the budget. If we can find revenue to bring into our community that should trump this very vocal minority.
Let’s not forget, too, it’s not like this is a new product. Marijuana has been for sale in our communities forever. It’s just this is the first time it’s legal. For someone to deny that and deny that it’s in our schools and deny that it’s prevalent and say ‘gee, not us,’ that’s a lot of BS because it is here.
Q: Who’s the vocal minority?
A: Funny thing is that it’s both parties that are pushing back. It seems like the older generation is more resistant to change than the younger.
Q: It’s the older generation that tends to vote more heavily, right?
A: Correct. But let’s not forget it was on the ballot.
Q: What do you want to do with the money generated?
A: We can build a recreational center, which we’ve wanted forever. There’s a lot of things we can do with that money, especially in these fiscal times. The same people saying we can’t embrace marijuana will be the same people complaining that our budget is out of control and we need more revenue coming in.
Q: How do you think opposition like this happens?
A: It’s the safe thing to do. Politicians can’t always think safely. You have to do what’s right for your constituents even if it’s a hard decision. I always advocate — make the hard right decisions rather than the easier wrong ones.
— Jelani Gibson
AYR opens 3 retail stores this week
Three additional stores began offering adult recreational weed on Wednesday in Woodbridge, Eatontown and Union under the Garden State Dispensary banner.
The stores, which belonging to AYR Wellness, had been selling medical cannabis and are the latest to offer legal weed since New Jersey launched legalized recreational marijuana sales for adults 21 and over on April 21.
A line began forming outside the Woodbridge store an hour before the 10 a.m. opening.
Among those taking it all in was Ryan Denman, 33, of Hazlet, who was elated Central Jersey with a population of 3.4 million got another adult weed store.
Denman stepped up to a kiosk on the new recreational adult weed side of the dispensary to purchase marijuana flower and edibles. His total tab: $132 with an additional $8.25 sales tax and $2.64 municipal tax to the township.
“This is great,” Denman, a logistics supervisor said. “I work in Elizabeth. This is so much closer to me. But the best part is I no longer have to fear getting in trouble for having this on me.”
The only dispensary located mid-state offering both medical and recreational cannabis prior to Wednesday was in Lawrence Township, Mercer County by Verano under the Zen Leaf banner.
Though Wednesday’s pomp and circumstance was nowhere near the scope and decibel of the historic statewide launch on April 21, the opening in Woodbridge still had its share of excitement.
Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac cut the ribbon just before 10 a.m., alongside AYR Vice President of Retail Sales Julie Winter, AYR Vice President of Communications Rob Vanisko and Garden State Dispensary employees.
“Welcome!” McCormac proclaimed as a line looked on at the front of the dispensary.
The mayor noted that the store has operated “as a medical cannabis facility for years and we look forward to a long relationship with the company in the years to come offering both medical and recreational cannabis as of today.”
About 28 miles south on the Garden State Parkway, the scene was even busier with a steady stream of cars going in and out of the parking lot surrounding Garden State Dispensary at 59 Main Street in Eatontown. Police officers who patrolled the lot reported no major incidents as a line formed steadily all day in front of the dispensary, and snaked around into the rear of the building.
They also ensured that no one snatched the front row parking spots, which were marked “for medical patients only,” who weren’t supposed to. Under state requirements, the dispensaries are to maintain priority check out and access to medical patients amid the expansion into the recreational market.
Sam Futterman, 25, couldn’t be happier since adult weed in Eatontown would now mean half the commute from her home in Freehold compared to the one to and from Lawrence.
The retail store manager said she has held off on purchasing a medical card and instead turned to recreational weed from Zen Leaf in Lawrence to relieve extreme anxiety, stomach cramps, and her other ailments.
“It’s super comforting to know I can get it here without having to put it on my calendar because of the long commute,” said Futterman as she stood in line in the mid-afternoon heat dressed in shorts and a tank top, one of only about a half dozen women among a sea of young and middle aged men Wednesday.
While the new stores offering adult weed brought the statewide count to 16, analysts project New Jersey will add only a handful more by the end of the year.
The state has a limited number of existing medical dispensaries approved to add adult recreational weed in what is expected to be a multi-billion dollar industry.
Analysts have been factoring AYR in 2022 cannabis business models for the remainder of the year to measure what revenue can be generated from eight dispensaries — formally known as alternative treatment centers. These are the large multi-state operators with a presence in several states.
“Taking the incumbents, and even the AYR Garden State Dispensary stores, we estimate 5-10 more stores will be able to offer (adult) recreational services by year-end 2022,” wrote Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Pablo Zuanic in an investor note dated May 1.
Zuanic cautioned New Jersey was still starting off with far fewer stores than other states.
“Twenty stores would still be too little compared with other states that have legalized recreational cannabis — and small too, compared with the 1,500 stores selling alcohol beverages in the state, before counting 7,000 bars and restaurants selling for on-premise consumption,” said Zuanic.
When Arizona began adult recreational weed sales, it started with 125 stores while Illinois had 100 stores. But those states had far larger medical marijuana programs already in place when they legalized recreational adult weed, which is why they were able to sell it from so many stores out of the gate compared to New Jersey, according to experts. Illinois already had 110 existing medical dispensaries and Arizona 94.
By comparison, New Jersey’s Medicinal Marijuana Program has only 23 medical dispensaries owned by a dozen multi-state operators that service the approximately 130,000 registered medical marijuana patients. The program stalled from expanding after applicants who were turned down sued the state and a judge imposed a two-year stay that stopped new licenses from being awarded until late last year.
In addition to the 16 stores that are now selling adult weed, three operators are negotiating with local townships to begin adult recreational weed sales within their borders in the coming weeks and months.
They include Verano under the Zen Leaf banner in Neptune Township; Ascend Wellness, which will appear June 20 before the Montclair Township Planning Board to get final zoning and use approvals; and TerrAscend, which plans to announce an opening date for adult weed sales at its Lodi facility.
Curaleaf in Edgewater Park began recreational weed sales as the 13th store on May 25 after a month delay in which it expanded its parking lot.
Adult weed’s arrival in Woodbridge brought only delight to Carol Hakim of East Brunswick, a grandmother, as she shopped in the store.
Located at 950 U.S. Route 1, heavy traffic could be seen streaming by the dispensary through the glass doors. The store had the distinctive blue and white Garden State Dispensary banner outside.
— Suzette Parmley | NJ.com
Jeff Brown talks application process, challenges ahead
At the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association’s Lunch & Learn June 10, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission Executive Director Jeff Brown spoke about where the Garden State is now that the market opened nearly two months ago.
In his talk, hosted by NJCBA president Ed DeVeaux, Brown spoke about the commission’s accomplishments this year, what the commission is doing to educate the business community on how to apply and broke down the licenses that are available, and what are the set asides for various groups, including minorities and social equity applicants.
He said there have already been 1,100 applications and the goal has been to review applications inside of 90 days. Annual applications take a longer, he said.
“People are rushing to submit applications, and they’re making a lot mistakes,” Brown said. He encouraged applicants to take your time and make sure everything is filled out properly so that the process can run smoothly. “You can be sure if all your ducks in a row… and then you’re going to get recommended for a license.”
Watch the video below.
On Friday, June 17, at noon the NJCBA Lunch & Learn will feature Gary Cohen, CEO of Cova Software, and Lucas McCann, chief scientific officer and government regulatory & licensing expert at CannDelta. Register here.
Next week, June 24, the NJCBA Lunch & Learn guest will be Todd Polyniak of SAX LLP.
— NJ Cannabis Insider staff
NJ Cannabis Insider 2022 Awards winners
What a night to remember! Thanks to all who joined us last week for the state’s first-ever cannabis industry awards.
Some 200 insiders, including guests who came from as far as Colorado and Texas, showed off their style and fashion on the green carpet and on the venue floor at the Carteret Performing Arts Center. (See photos here.)
Winners in 12 categories, including four Publisher’s Choice awards, were handed a statuette called The Canny to recognized their achievements in the cannabis space. They were:
- CannaCoverage, an insurance company owned by Nichelle Santos, for Minority Business of the Year.
- NJ Cannabis Certified, Sarah Trent, for Women-owned Business of the Year.
- Sapphire Risk Advisory Group and CEO Tony Gallo, for Excellence in Consultancy and Professional Services.
- Cova, a point of sale software company and CEO Gary Cohen, for Excellence in Innovation.
- Hiller, PC, and firm partner Lauren Rudick, for Excellence in Cannabis Law.
- Trichome Analytical, a cannabis testing lab and CEO Kristen Goedde, for Excellence in Healthcare and Life Sciences.
- 420NJEvents, a minority advocacy group helmed by Brendon Robinson and Stan Okoro, for Excellence in Social Equity.
- And Hance Construction and CEO Art Hance, for Excellence in Commercial Building Operations. Hance Construction was also named Founding Sponsor for its support of NJ Cannabis Insider since its inception in 2018.
(For the full list of nominees, go here.)
Earlier in the evening, presenters Amol Sinha from the American Civil Liberty Union-New Jersey, Dr. David Nathan from Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, Trent of NJ Cannabis Certified, and Faye Coleman of Pure Genesis presented the inaugural winners of the Publisher’s Choice award in four categories:
- Lifetime Achievement: Bill Caruso, an attorney and lobbyist with Archer & Greiner, P.C. and Archer Public Affairs.
- Ambassador of the Year: Edmund DeVeaux, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association and a lobbyist at Burton Trent.
- Community Game Changer of the Year: Jessica F. Gonzalez, an attorney at Hiller PC and general counsel at Minorities for Medical Marijuana.
- Excellence in Education: Rob Mejia, an author, entrepreneur and adjunct professor at Stockton University.
Sponsors supporting the event included: Genova Burns, Cova, Ascend, Cannabist, Treez and the Minority Cannabis Academy, which sponsored the night’s afterparty.
In April the cannabis industry voted who should be recognized as the best in their categories. Six finalists were narrowed down to three, with the ultimate winner announced at the NJ Cannabis Insider 2022 Awards gala.
— Enrique Lavin, publisher & editor
Cannademix to host event on education and culinary arts
On June 23 at Hudson County Community College, a Cannademix event will be held by manufacturing applicant Josh Alb of Alb Labs, to tackle education, policy, business, community restoration, the culinary arts, and how people of color in New Jersey have curated cannabis culture.
The event, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., will feature an expungement clinic by Apothercarium NJ, networking area, a mocktail bar by Alb Labs, a live infusion demonstration on campus and panels.
Panelists from BIPOC, AAPI, and the LGBTQ+ communities will illustrate how cannabis has been a part of the human experience across multiple cultures, Alb said.
“If there was ever a more important time for education — it is now,” Alb said. “We cannot begin to create an industry without educating people. Education is a key part in the culture of cannabis. It dictates what people think and by educating the community we create our culture here in the Garden State.”
Special guests, include Jersey City’s very own Jessica Gonzalez, Jersey City Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh, Celebrity chef and owner of Mikey Likes It Ice Cream, Michael “Mikey” Cole, former Gov. Jim McGreevey, and the two times Super Bowl Champion and former New York Giants player, Jonathan Casillas.
There will be free food for the first two hundred people to arrive as well as the first one hundred will receive a gift bag upon entry.
For tickets and more information, go here.
NJ Cannabis Insider Live! Meetup
When: July 14
Where: The Asbury, 210 Fifth Ave., Asbury Park
NJ Cannabis Insider returns to Jersey’s hippest shoretown hotel for another serious business mixer. Subscribers should use code NJCISUB for 20% the ticket price. Sponsors include: HBK, Cova, Hance Construction and UFCW.
For tickets and more information, go here.
— NJ Cannabis Insider staff
Virtual recruiting event July 26-27
On July 26-27, NJ.com will host its second Cannabis Insider Live Virtual Job Fair.
Job applicants will be able to upload their resume, browse exhibitor booths for new opportunities, and live chat with recruiters.
During this two-day virtual event, recruiters can chat with candidates.
Live Chat Schedule: July 26: 9 a.m. – noon | July 27: 1– 4 p.m.
The virtual booths will remain live through Aug. 23, allowing visitors to explore and apply to jobs at their convenience.
More than 4,000 job-seekers attended our May hiring event. Register here.
To learn how you can participate please Contact Melissa Ambrose, NJ Advance Media’s candidate talent acquisition specialist: email MAmbrose@njadvancemedia.com or call direct at 732-491-9001. Ask about NJ Cannabis Insider subscriber discounts.
Jelani Gibson is the lead reporter for Cannabis Insider. He previously covered gun violence for the Kansas City Star.
Suzette Parmley is the cannabis reporter for The Star-Ledger and NJ.com. She previously worked at the New Jersey Law Journal and The Philadelphia Inquirer covering law, business and politics.
Susan K. Livio is a Statehouse reporter for The Star-Ledger and NJ.com who covers health, social policy and politics
Jonathan D. Salant is Washington correspondent for The Star-Ledger and NJ.com.