Residents critical of potential recreational cannabis business in old Hoboken tavern

The Hoboken Cannabis Review Board heard it's first ever commercial marijuana applicant.

The Hoboken Cannabis Review Board held it’s first ever applicant hearing for a recreational cannabis business in the city, about a year after New Jersey legalized recreational marijuana.

The business titled Story Dispensary of Hoboken is looking to set up shop at the former Hudson Tavern bar at 51 14th Street, and while the board eventually supported their application, residents grilled the applicants over how their operation could affect those that reside in the building and the surrounding neighborhood.

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Drinks out, weed in

Story Dispensary said that their goal is to “be as good a neighbors as possible for Hoboken as a whole, certainly for uptown neighbors. We think that the experience that we’re bringing to bear here will allow us to do that,” said Lee Vartan of Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC, who represented the clients.

The CEO of Story, Samanatha Silva, is a Hoboken resident and a bartender at City Bistro, saying that she’s always dreamed of opening her own business. She said that saw an opportunity to launch Story after the state legalized marijuana, and that she toured cannabis dispensaries in New Jersey, Delaware and Colorado, as well as growth facilities.

Silva said that she heard in Colorado that most customers of cannabis are medical patients that switch from prescription to over the counter use. “To me, this means if we open and launch a store, the focus has to be on treating every customer as if they are a patient with a wellness need,” she said.

The other business partner, Aaron Epstein, will be providing management services. A former Hoboken resident, he said that he’s overseen cannabis operations in five different states, and was the CFO and vice president of Garden State Dispensary.

When the public was allowed to question the testimony or give public comment, a number of residents in the neighborhood were mostly opposed or skeptical towards the applicants setting up at the location. There were so many people who spoke that the board decided to move the other two applicants that were supposed to be heard to a later date.

Many of the complaints were mainly about the transparency of the process, how a cannabis dispensary would affect the neighborhood and the emphasis on security and safety

The owner of the former tavern, Tom Brennan, said that the place was supposed to be a physical therapy location put up by the buyers of the property.

“At the last moment, the first time we’ve heard about this as far as change of usage was Tuesday. Is that fair, sir?” said Brennan. “So I’m asking you the question, where’s the fairness? Where’s the transparency? This whole thing just seems to be conducted in a really questionable manner.”

Board attorney Ronald Mondello noted that the applicants didn’t notify those within 200 feet of the location about the business unlike the other two applicants, something that Vartan replied that wasn’t applicable for the purposes of the meeting. One resident from the building itself, Leslie Bradley, said that she had heard about the business by chance.

One resident, Emily Jean, compared the process to the recently failed Hoboken high school referendum, saying that the tenants and homeowners weren’t taken into account.

“I don’t think a dispensary is going to completely deplete our area,” she said. “But the concept of feeling someone pulling the wool over our eyes, and not being a part of this community is something that I think runs deep in this township and is a big deal, and I think it should just be really accounted for there.”

Epstein said during the testimony that there will be no consumption allowed in the store and that there’s no intention to convert it into a consumption lounge, when concerns were brought up over odors and how it affect children in the area.

Some also questioned the potential security detail that the applicants are planning on, pointing out that in the neighborhood impact plan that store security will be armed while backing delivery agents.

Vartan said that that was only a backup plan, and that their intentions were to seek a dedicated loading zone from the planning board. Epstein later said that armed guards are a deterrent and that it doesn’t mean there’s a lot of violence.

Epsteint then said when asked about it again that it’s “a very attractive business for criminals,” and that they’ve gone through “extraordinary lengths” to comply with state security regulations and implement their own policy and procedures.

Board supports applicants

While Brennan, Bradley and a number of others opposed creating the store, the applicants had the support of the board and a few other residents.

One resident, Liz Wick, was supportive of the applicants, saying as a person that works in rehab that she’s seen the benefits of treating patients with cannabis over opioids.

“I think we all know this is the future and an inevitable part of the future of our Hoboken community,” she said. “I believe based on what was stated tonight that this will be executed in the safest way possible with our residents in mind.”

Business Administrator Jason Freeman, who serves a board member, implored the applicants to engage with the neighbors, saying that he thinks they started off on the wrong foot.

Council President Michael Russo, who also serves on the board, said to Silva that it was “unfair” regarding the frustrations from the former and current landlord of the location and being pushed on her business structure.

The board voted 3-0 to support the application, which now heads to the planning board for site approval, as well as state approval for a license. Hoboken spokesperson Marilyn Baer said that approved and licensed applicants will be required to follow a “strict building code enforcement.”

“All approved cannabis retailers will also be providing the city with additional tax revenue through the cannabis transfer tax, as specified in the ordinance,” she said.

The state Cannabis Regulatory Commission recently said that while they hope to finish reviewing applications on March 15 and vote on their approval by March 24, they did not commit on when recreational sales would start.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mark Koosau can be reached at mkoosau@hudsonreporter.com or his Twitter @snivyTsutarja.