The Hoboken Cannabis Review Board advised that the city council revoke Harmony dispensary’s approval after not taking any serious steps to open in about three years.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
First, new Hoboken Cannabis Review Board members Katie Morse, Gary Weinstein, and Robert Davis were sworn in.
Culture Hoboken was initially on the agenda. They had previously been denied, but through a lawsuit settlement narrowly approved by the counsel they will get another hearing. However, CRB attorney Ron Mondello said the council still has purview for now.
He continued that that Hoboken Zoning Officer Ann Holtzman sent a letter in August suspending Harmony dispensary’s local approval due to inactivity.
“What’s been going on with Harmony?” Mondello asked.
Attorney Chirali Patel said their local approval was issued in September 2021, but then litigation against Harmony dispensary and its CEO, Shaya Brodchandel, began.
Patel said Brodchandel and Harmony had shareholder disputes and were accused of embezzlement. Thus, three separate lawsuits were filed against the company.
“Specifically geared toward the individual, I’m going to call the one bad actor, the former CEO,” Patel claimed.
She explained that Brodchandel allegedly took $1 million to invest in a foreign company.
“It’s still currently a nonprofit. It never converted to the for profit status. By court order, Shaya is no longe r… part of Harmony,” Patel explained.
She noted the court-appointed custodian retained an investment banker to sell Harmony to address debt.
“There is a bidder. They’re Illicit Gardens, the second largest MSO (Multi-State Operator) in Missouri, vertically integrated. They have a history of partnering with Social Equity brands. They’re also well capitalized.”
“Harmony has ceased to exist?” Mondello questioned.
Patel said they still operate as a medical and adult use dispensary in Secaucus.
“Are we going to see Harmony re-applying, or is it another entity?” Mondello asked.
“The transition will happen depending on how the CRC (NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission) approves it,” Patel said.
She didn’t know whether their name would be changed like others sold to MSOs.
“The ownership may change. There would have to be a whole new application. You would have to start from scratch,” Mondello said.
Patel noted Harmony didn’t pay fees for their adult use cultivation and manufacturing licenses, which the CRC revoked. They still grow and manufacture medical cannabis products.
“Should they pay those fees, those will be reinstated. Their class 5 (adult use cannabis dispensary) license is still intact,” she added.
“Harmony was the first application approved by the City of Hoboken. That piece of real estate has sat with butcher paper over the windows for three years,” CRB Commissioner Jason Freeman, also the city business administrator, declared.
“I have absolutely no confidence… that Harmony… is going to get this done. No has communicated with this board. It’s not only disappointing, it’s beyond the pale.”
Patel spoke well of the potential buyer, Illicit Garden.
“They are planning on having operations in New Jersey separately,” Patel said.
She explained the Harmony dispensary auction sale hearing will be in late October. However, the CRC is not meeting in November. So, the sale will likely be approved by the CRC in December. Patel said they could open by next spring.
“Are licenses and approvals even transferable?” Freeman asked.
Patel said under the medical cannabis law, they could be, subject to CRC approval.
“When you refer to a new owner Illicit … is that like unlawful?” Weinstein asked.
“They specifically tried to highlight people incarcerated by the War on Drugs,” Patel said.
“Who is paying you right now? Freeman asked.
“That’s the court-appointed custodian,” Patel said.
Allen Wilen is the court-appointed custodian of Harmony.
“I was able to remove Mr. Brodchandel,” Wilen stated, also noting that he began negations with Illicit.
“The company is going to take additional capital … to build out the project in Hoboken,” Wilen argued, further stating that many creditors must be paid before a profit can be turned.
Mondello said the board would either recommend they are denied or heard again as Illicit Gardens.
“Do you know anybody from the East Coast Cannabis Company?” Freeman asked.
“No, I don’t,” Patel said.
“That company reached out to the city with interest in taking over the lease. It seems we’re adding another layer to this confusion,” Freeman indicated.
“I just spoke to the owner yesterday. He didn’t bring up anything,” Patel said.
“Has anybody approached the city council and said ‘here’s our plan?’” Mondello asked.
“Almost all communications were going to Mr. Brodchandel. We’re finding out things along the way. I’m more than willing to appear before them,” Wilen replied.
“It’s necessary,” Mondello noted.
Resident Manny Rivera Solar said he didn’t want to see the city get caught up in litigation and he questioned what the hold up was.
Patel said she was brought in on August 28th or 29th and sent a letter to the city on August 30th.
“Why did it take so long to notify the city of Hoboken? You have not even built anything out. We don’t know who it is or who it’s going to be.” River said.
“I was under the impression… that there was not an issue with the city,” Wilen responded.
He reiterated that Brodchandel controlled communications, which was a problem, and continued that another company would take longer to open.
“We’ve already had an actor who’s not good. He cannot completely 100 percent vouch for whoever they sell it to,” Rivera said.
“It could be considered as hearsay this other person approaching the landlord,” Francis Dixon said, which he argued that could invite a lawsuit.
“This is an advisory board. They simply to advise the city council,” Mondello replied.
“Do you have evidence of that proposed transaction with the landlord? So, we can make sure that’s on the up and up,” Dixon said.
“Board members don’t present evidence,” Mondello replied
Patel again said that their issues were on the shoulders of one person and asked for the city to be understanding.
“Chirali and Allen are asking you to take the prior support for Harmony and transfer it to Illicit. Illicit will have to come back before this board,” Mondello noted.
“Why are we being asked to weigh in now when everything is so unclear?” Morse asked.
Mondello said it was part of their decision appeal process.
“The zoning officer made a decision … that because of the complete lack of progress … to pull their approval. We wouldn’t know any of this stuff but for the letter that was sent,” Freeman noted.
“We certainly want to give the applicant due process. This is their opportunity,” Mondello said.
Freeman made a motion to vacate their approval, which Mondello noted would be a recommendation to the council to revoke their approval.
The board voted unanimously (5-0) in favor, with Weinstein recusing himself sine two of the Illict Garden board members are part of the Last Prisoner Project, which he advises.
Before the meeting concluded, Mondello said Harmony could still make a pitch to the council.