Jersey City cannabis board approves Powerhouse Arts District applicant

WR Wellness wants to open a recreational dispensary in Downtown

The Jersey City Cannabis Control Board heard the applicants for WR Wellness. Photo by Mark Koosau.

The Jersey City Cannabis Control Board has approved a recreational cannabis applicant, putting them one step closer to selling within the city.

The applicants, WR Wellness, want to create a recreational dispensary at 150 Bay Street, located in the Powerhouse Arts District of Downtown. The three principals in WR Wellness are Wendy Topkis and Rachel Katz, who are from Manhattan, and Leany Pichardo from Newark.

Topkis is a former real estate attorney who was involved in the opening of a medical cannabis dispensary in Pennsylvania as a principal owner back in about 2018, which she’s looking to do again in Jersey City for recreational use this time.

“I enjoy the challenge of being part of a team and the process of finding locations, hiring staff, and creating opportunities for other people,” she said at the meeting on May 23. “Working with open minded people who are interested in being a part of something new is exciting. I’m proud to be part of an organization that will bring jobs, revenue and enjoyment to Jersey City.”

Katz is a former pro bono attorney in New York for the nonprofit Door Legal Services Center, and serves on the board of directors at the Jewish Community Project Downtown. Pichardo works at Mercury Public Affairs, and has worked with the Newark government to mitigate the city’s water crisis and their lead pipe issue.

The business will have 29 full-time and 24 part-time jobs, with most of them being bud-tending and front-of-house retail positions. Michael Gagnon, the applicant’s security consultant from Smart Security Partners, also said that all employees will be trained in security awareness, policies procedures and the handling of emergencies.

Local outreach

A few commissioners on the board had concerns for the applicants about the local outreach for their business, particularly in regards to job recruitment and contributions.

Commissioner Stacey Flanagan, who’s also the city’s Health and Human Services director, noted that none of the principals are from Jersey City, and had also questioned why the applicants didn’t reach out to the Jersey City Employment and Training Program when they said they were talking with the Hudson County Workforce Development Board for hiring.

“I think for us, it’s really important that the majority of the staff that are working in your location, if not the leadership, are residents of this city,” she said (Flanagan is also a board member on the Workforce Development Board).

Katz then explained that she will be overseeing community outreach and employee recruiting training efforts, noting that they had worked with Councilman James Solomon to meet with the Powerhouse Arts District Neighborhood Association on the proposed location.

Wendy Topkis, Rachel Katz and Leany Pichardo are the principals of WR Wellness. Photo by Mark Koosau.

Pichardo also said that they are committed to hiring a diverse and local workforce, and that she’ll also work with Katz on community impact and other programs, including the Hudson County Community Reintegration Program for women that were incarcerated, and exploring the option of an education and scholarship program with Hudson County Community College.

“Recruiting through local hiring programs will necessarily provide a diverse pool of applicants,” said Pichardo. “Rather, as a business model, a diverse workforce just makes the most sense as they attract locals and increase our community presence and social justice, which is a deep personal commitment of my own, as well as the business.”

Board attorney Rob Mondello suggested to Topkis that they may be able to find a “very good” general manager in Jersey City, to which Topkis replied that it would be “optimal”, but plan on casting a wide net to find someone that they see as the most qualified, regardless of where they live.

“It’s more of helping not the community itself, but the city of Jersey City,” said Commissioner Jeffrey Kaplowitz in regards to the board’s critiques. “Your community is an extremely wealthy area of Jersey City. It doesn’t really reflect the rest of Jersey City, and what we’re here to do is try to equalize that.”

Neighborhood endorsements

The applicants had the support from the neighborhood association, saying that a dispensary will be beneficial for the community.

“I have pulled the other members of our community group, and just about everyone is certainly very much in favor,” said Anne Viller,” the president of the association. “I don’t partake; many of our members will not partake either; but they don’t see that as an impairment for the people who want to partake.”

The association members also said that they weren’t fans of the former establishment at 150 Bay Street, a nightclub, and that WR Wellness have been cooperative with the community on their plans.

“This is just the beginning of the process, but this location, I believe, is going to be large enough to be able to serve the neighborhood, as well as the rest of Jersey City,” said Katherine Moore, another member of the association.

Chairwoman Brittani Bunney later apologized on behalf of the board to the association for suggesting that they were discounting the Powerhouse district as a part of the city. “I think what Commissioner Kaplowitz was trying to suggest is we’re looking for some benefit for those who have suffered from prior convictions for cannabis and the youth,” she said.

The board voted 3-1 to approve the applicants, with Commissioner Glenda Salley being the only dissenting vote, and Commissioner Courtney Solane absent. They also recommended the conditions that they expand their employment and their search of donations towards other non-profits in the city, and keep a record of job fairs that they attend.

WR Wellness joins Blossom Dispensary and MMD NJ to receive approval from the Cannabis Control Board as well as the Planning Board. They will now need approval from the City Council before applying for state approval.

Another applicant, Amdedo, was carried over to the next meeting.

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