The Jersey City Cannabis Control Board has approved two cannabis retail applicants and tabled two others after various concerns were brought up.
The two approved applicants, Decades Dispensary and Jersey Leaf, are looking to locate two recreational dispensaries in the Heights and the West Side respectively, while two others, Medusa NJ, which is also proposing the city’s first consumption lounge, and Local Modiv, were tabled.
The first applicant the board unanimously approved that night was Decades, who are looking to open their location at 404 Central Ave. in the Heights.
Bakula Patel and Neel Patel are two of the principles of Decades. Bakula is a physical therapist who grew up in the Heights after immigrating in 1983, and also co-founded the TOTZ Play n Learn daycare in the city. Neel is a Connecticut resident who operates a recreational dispensary outside of Worcester, Massachusetts.
“Given the regulations in New Jersey being very similar, almost being copied from Massachusetts, I think I bring great value to this team and to city of Jersey City to run a compliant business,” said Neel. “As we all know, cannabis can be very tricky and you got to stay compliant to stay open.”
The second applicant approved unanimously (with Vice Chairman Jeffrey Kaplowitz recusing himself) was Jersey Leaf, who are looking to open a dispensary at 554 West Side Ave..
“What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is the unicorn,” said their attorney, Fruqan Mouzon. “They fit all the boxes. They’re not wealthy, they’re not all white, they’re from the community, they’re socially impacted.”
Two of the principles of the dispensary are George Margetis and William Pena, who are both lifelong Jersey City residents. Margetis’ family owns the Miss America Diner, while Pena runs his own truck company, and said that he had gotten into trouble in the past but was able to turn his life around through the drug court.
With both Decades Dispensary and Jersey Leaf having received Planning Board and Cannabis Control Board approval, they will need approval by the City Council before heading for state approval.
Most of the discussion at the meeting was about Medusa NJ, who were eventually tabled after concerns were brought up by education leaders over its proximity to nearby schools.
Medusa is looking to open a cannabis retail and a consumption lounge on 759 A Bergen Ave. in Journal Square, which is one block away from Saint Peter’s University. Their principal, Haytham Elgawly, is a lifelong Jersey City resident who’s owned and operated a number of businesses, and is looking to convert his Clearpoint clothing store into a cannabis store.
Elgawly pitched his experience in running parties, events and crowd control towards creating the location. He said that the street level will be a 600-700 square foot dispensary, while the downstairs level will be the consumption lounge.
Medusa’s attorney, Rosemarie Moyeno Matos, added that the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission has not promulgated any rules regarding consumption areas, and that they’re currently referring to the current state cannabis laws and the local ordinances.
Eugene Cornacchia, the president of Saint Peter’s University, said that the university had concerns about the dispensary’s potential impact on crowd control and security for students in residence halls, including a new one that they’re building close by to it.
“I’d point out we were left out of this process early on, and the social impacts that I mention were missed in this process,” he said. “Even though we’re going to have our own security cameras and security force at the residence hall, it means more costs, money, time and wary on the part of the already existing challenge of drug use in college campuses.”
A delegation of Board of Education trustees including President Gerald Lyons, Vice President Gina Veridbello and Trustee Lorenzo Richardson also spoke out against Medusa, with Lyons himself warning that the dispensary is located near three schools.
“I’m really not fond of where they’re being located,” said Richardson. “I see that not being located in the expensive high rises. They’ll be located in neighborhoods where people are economically depressed.”
Kaplowitz attempted to make a motion to approve with conditions, but did not get any second. Chairwoman Brittani Bunney then made a motion to table, saying that her concerns were that Medusa didn’t speak to Saint Peter’s or Hudson Catholic.
“I do feel that we can’t just disregard these institutions who have been there, and that it may have some impact on them,” she said. “Finding a way to work together so that you can move forward, because I do think that that’s important.”
Her motion got a second, and the board voted 3-1-1 to table Medusa, with Kaplowitz voting no and Commissioner Stacey Flanagan recusing herself.
A temporary nap
The other applicant unanimously tabled was Local Modiv, who are looking to create a dispensary at the former Sleep Cheap shop at 155 Newark Ave. in Downtown.
The two principals, Chelsea Duffy, an entrepreneur and the Vice Chair of the city’s Women’s Advisory Board, and Matthew Cimiluca, an IT engineer and the founder of his own IT consulting company, are Jersey City residents who said that they previously attempted to gain licensing for medical cannabis back in 2019, but were disqualified.
“Since that process, we have retained a different level of commitment,” said Duffy. “We’ve been able to move forward in securing something that will be suitable for this venture.”
Frank Vitolo, a lawyer on behalf of Oceanfront Holdings, said that they’re looking to open their own cannabis dispensary nearby on 141 Newark Ave., and had asked if the close proximity will be an issue in the future.
The board took that into consideration, with Commerce Director Maynard Woodson saying that it will be treated as if a continuation of a non-conforming use.
“Because when the the application is granted, there is no license within 200 feet, and you’re not going to stop a concurrent application when they’re 50 to 75 percent from the application,” he said. “So more than likely, it appears that they both will be granted the license.”
“In other words, since the council hasn’t adopted a resolution for either one, there’s no pins on the map,” said board attorney Rob Mondello.
The board eventually voted to table Local Modiv so that they can get more evidence of a relationship with the Special Improvement District.
After all the applicants were heard, the board voted to hold a special meeting on June 27 at 5 p.m..