The Jersey City Cannabis Control Board has approved the applications of three retail cannabis operations, tabling two others for a later date.
The three applicants approved by the board on Oct. 17were Golden Door Dispensary in Journal Square, Kushklub NJ on Tonnelle Avenue, and Community Wellness Center of NJ, which is right under the Pulaski Skyway. The two tabled were Legacy to Lifted, which could locate on the West Side, and Lifted Vision, which could be in the Heights.
Opening the doors
The first applicant approved in an unanimous vote (with Commissioner Stacey Flanagan recusing herself) was Golden Door Dispensary, who are looking to open a store at 638 Newark Ave. in Journal Square.
The owner of the business, Brett D’Alessandro, is a retired Marine Corp sergeant who runs a non-profit called “Backpacks for Life” that coaches and mentors veterans who are homeless. He talked about how a friend introducing him to cannabis helped him get off of drugs that were issued by Veterans Affairs.
“It really saved my life,” he said. “I mean, I witnessed it firsthand. I also started to give out CBD products, working with other CBD companies and manufacturers, to vets who can’t afford CBD products. Really focusing on this holistic approach working with vets, and that’s kind of the first part of many, many cannabis endeavors that really got me interested.”
He and his attorney, Stephanie McClure, went over how the store will occupy the first floor of the building, and that he’s engaged with architects and contractors to do a “real facelift” of the building itself by redoing the outside storefront as a beautification-type product.
D’Alessandro then said that they signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the New Jersey Reentry Corporation to hire at least 10 percent from them and donate two percent of their net profits to them, and are also working with an MOU with Hudson County Community College to have job expos, cannabis classes and scholarships.
He also said that they will have up to 10 employees with $18 per hour pay, add other benefits such as health insurance and paid time off to do volunteer work when they’re “financially stable”, and that expungement initiatives will also go through NJRC.
Former Gov. Jim McGreevy, who’s the chairman of the NJRC, appeared himself to endorse D’Alessandro and Golden Door Dispensary, saying that D’Alessandro is “a tireless, indefatigable advocate for veterans, for the disenfranchised and the marginalized.”
“As Brett had said, cannabis is recognized as a treatment therapy for those suffering from opioid use disorder, and that’s why we’re strongly supportive, respectfully, of this application,” he said.
Another applicant that was approved unanimously (with Flanagan again recusing herself) was Community Wellness Center of NJ, who are seeking to create both a medical and recreational cannabis store at 220 Broadway.
Their attorney, Michael McQueeny, explained that they had received provision approval to be a medical dispensary by the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission in 2021 (with a potential opening early next year), and are seeking to expand to recreational sales.
“There was originally a restriction on the medicinal license, and so they had to be operational for one year prior to doing that,” he said. “That restriction got lifted sometime early summer, and that’s part of the reason we’re here today.”
Jonathan Bednarsh, the Board Chairman of Community Wellness Center, said that they’ve been focused on New Jersey cannabis since 2018, and came from other careers such as entrepreneurship and being the founder of a real estate tech company.
His partner, Adam Hershey, is a mentor and investor in the finance industry; Bednarsh said that the two of them met five years ago and realized that they were both interested in cannabis as the next step in their lives.
“The reason for that was beyond the economic opportunity,” he said. “We were at a point in our lives and what struck us both was that we saw it as a generational opportunity to really give back and make an impact in our communities, and do something that we could be proud of.”
Bednarsh explained that the store will be 4,500 square feet big, and are planning to partner with Hudson County Commissioner Jerry Walker at Team Walker to offer commitment to their vocational program, as well as signing an MOU with AngelaCares, which is run by Assemblywoman Angela McKnight.
He also said that they plan to work with Hudson County to provide educational and reentry opportunities, as well as expungement support for those affected by the war on drugs. They plan on having 20-25 jobs, with about 70 percent being diverse and a $17-$19 an hour pay with benefits.
Chairwoman Brittani Bunney said that since they are going to be doing medical services, it wouldn’t make “any sense for us not to grant them the ability to also do retail, especially considering that they shared with us even if they’re approved for retail, they will still have the two dedicated cash registers to serve the medical community.”
The kush gets through (barely)
One applicant that the board narrowly approved was KushKlub NJ, who are looking to create a store at 550-560 Tonnelle Ave.
Henok Abraha, a cannabis retailer in Washington state, will be the full-time owner and manager of KushKlub. He explained that he launched stores in Everett and Shoreline, Washington, as well as in Vancouver and Toronto, Canada.
Jeffrey Middleton of North Bergen, who works for NBC Sports in advertising sales, will be a five percent owner of the business, and explained that he had met Abraha a year ago via family connections.
Explaining why they chose Jersey City for a store, Abraha explained that it was because of the “regulatory aspect of it,” mainly in that the cannabis board was controlling who was getting licenses, that there was no limit, and that stores have an impact on the community.
“The population in Jersey City was a strong determinant,” he said. “There’s a large workforce that we can draw from. There’s a very diverse resident population that we can also draw from that isn’t reflected in all the markets that we serve.”
“It came down to also that we wanted to live here and we felt like this was a place that we can place roots and grow our business on the East Coast,” he continued.
When discussing their application, the board had a few concerns about the lack of local connections, with Bunney saying that she was worried about multi-state operators having that trait, and inquired on what personal connections Abraha had locally.
Abraha replied that he plans to move to Jersey City, create roots and be part of the community, but Bunney replied later that she felt that his answer had “no soul.”
Another point of content brought up was whether the building for the store would exist entirely. James Marttine, who owns the proposed site, explained that they were contracted to construct a new building on old car space, and that he also got city approvals to construct there.
“I’m investing a large amount of money with these men to open his business on Tonnelle Ave., developing old car space which I owned myself for 20-something-years,” he said. “I bought that [when] it was a rock.”
Flanagan said that she was concerned that the application was premature because they don’t have the space, and that while she appreciated having someone that’s committing to build for them, “You set yourself up now to come back to us in a year, that you’re not going to have accomplished anything,” she said.
On the other side of the coin, Commissioner Courtney Sloane said that the property owner had commitment, particularly in developing a part of the city that could create jobs. “This is significant, and his organization has the opportunity, should you choose to step into it, to take on some social responsibility here,” she said.
In the end, the board voted 3-2 to approve KushKlub, with Bunney and Flanagan voting no.
Two applicants, Legacy to Lifted and Lifted Vision, were tabled by the board after concerns were raised over what their business vision would be like.
Legacy to Lifted had gone up first, and would be located on 490 West Side Ave. with about 1,500 square feet. The owner of the business, Christopher Broderick, is a lifelong Jersey City resident who runs a trucking company, and said that he was affected by the “cannabis war” due to his “love for the plant.”
He plans to oversee the employees, scheduling and community outreach. He also said that he plans to hire at least 10 employees (with at least 10 percent from SCORES’ reentry program), and offer expungement services with attorney Michael Hoffman.
Broderick also said that he plans to hire a number of friends from Jersey City that also had prior cannabis charges. ”I come from a social group of cannabis smokers, and we all just grew up together and in the shadows, hiding, just funny stoners that want to just now come to the light,” he said.
After testimony for Legacy to Lifted ended, the board deliberated over their application, with some questions being raised about what their business vision is.
“It’s almost like, ‘What is the vision, really?’,” said Sloane. “Each one of you are enrolled because he’s your friend, and so you’re there, because that’s your brother, and that’s your boy, you’re like a bunch of bros, we just have been smoking. We love flowers.”
“I get all that, that’s wonderful,” she continued. “But who really at the end of this exercise when counsel is not in; what’s the ‘there’ there? That’s what’s missing.”
Vice Chairman Jeffrey Kaplowitz suggested to the applicant’s attorney, Micci Weiss, that they discuss potentially tabling their application so they can bring in their experts (who would’ve been there that night but weren’t due to various reasons) to testify more about their vision.
After a short break, the board decided to table them for a later date. Soon after, Lifted Vision, who could be on 481 Central Ave. and were also represented by Weiss, were also tabled after Weiss said they also didn’t have experts to testify that night.