The Hoboken City Council approved the controversial Story Dispensary application by a 5-4 vote at a lengthy and contentious meeting last night.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
“The allegations surrounding the Story application have only become more egregious. This is about whether the city of Hoboken is pro-corruption,” said Elizabeth Urtecho, a 5th Ward resident who is leading a lawsuit to halt another dispensary, Blue Violets.
She alleged the 51-53 14th Street Condominium Association, Inc., who has two pending lawsuits to halt the dispensary, have made “disturbing allegations” about how the business would operated.
Urtecho noted that the building is owned by Jaclyn Fulop, the wife of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, and her business partner Drew Nussbaum – who also chairs the Coalition for Progress PAC linked to the mayor’s potential 2025 run for governor.
Furthermore, while the majority owner is listed at Samantha Silva, Jason Vedadi, an out-of-state cannabis executive, leased the first floor from the owners and subleased it to Story. She also referenced that Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-33) had some level of involvement.
“Assemblyman Raj Mukherji has been at the center of this business transaction and deceiving residents,” she claimed, also asserting that the condo owners have lost significant property value over this.
Tom Brennan, who previously operated the Hudson Tavern at the same location, said nearby residents were completely boxed out from the process.
“The public needs to be educated on this issue. This applicant didn’t notice people within 200 feet. They never engaged the neighborhood. They ignored CRB(Cannabis Review Board) member Jason Freeman’s suggestion to engage with the public. He, in fact, implored them,” he said.
Brennan also noted most New Jersey cannabis dispensaries are in suburban areas, pointing out that Bayonne and North Bergen are only allowing dispensaries in industrial areas, while neighboring Union City and Weehawken aren’t allowing them at all.
Francis Dixon wanted them to explain why they would support the dispensary and said that Mukherji’s involvement should be the final red flag for the project, arguing that approval from the council would suggest political influence in the process is okay.
Dixon said they’re fighting “politically connected people who think they’re above the law.”
“Story has become a novel about how an applicant put the worst foot forward. They thought they could get away with it. They didn’t care because they thought approval was a slam dunk,” Roberto Verthelyi said.
“If they behave like this before they get approval, how can we expect they’ll be a caring neighbor?”
He also said the dispensary would create a lot of traffic and would have absolutely zero social justice component.
“It makes a mockery of giving licenses to Black and Latino owners. You’re taking it away from one of those disadvantaged … members of the community.”
At that point, Council President Mike Russo reminded the audience that public comment is not a back and forth with the elected officials.
Morgan Goldman noted there was community meeting on Story Monday evening where Mayor Ravi Bhalla and his council allies met with the public to try to curry favor for the project.
“Somebody played the race card. We were told it’s a White community. I thought that was offensive [to say] that a White community doesn’t want a cannabis dispensary. We just don’t want it there,” he added.
“Elections do have consequences. Pay attention to the pulse of your constituents. Consider their plight and consider their arguments,” Manuel Rivera Solar said.
5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen, who called in, noted that a lot of people are looking forward to these dispensaries opening since many recreational cannabis users live in Hoboken. He also sought to refute the idea of many tourists coming to visit the dispensary.
“The Hudson Tavern was there for a long time. It was an establishment that served alcohol,” he said, despite that many in opposition claimed that it was never a rowdy bar that Hoboken is often recognized for.
Nevertheless, Cohen continued that Brennan told him he received complaints all the time.
“I asked that you respect the council. Excuse me, please. Everyone’s been so respectful. Let’s not ruin a good thing,” Council President Michael Russo said in the midst of a public outcry.
“There are a lot of regulations with respect to these businesses. People knew there was a bar operating at the location,” Cohen added, indicating that the application was “thoroughly reviewed.”
Cohen said a two percent sales tax would go to Hoboken, which will be a new revenue stream. He said 75 percent of that has to go to social justice causes, which he stated have not yet received a definition.
4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos noted he pushed for a commercial business district in his ward and that he would oppose any dispensary that would be proposed for a residential neighborhood in his ward.
“Two things I’ve learned on the city council, been here for a while now: it’s that I’m not the smartest guy in the room and if you make a mistake, you try and fix it. And the mistake people are referring to, mentioned by Councilwoman Fisher, I was one of the advocates for expansion of the commercial business district in town,” he began.
” … We wanted to expand the business district going down 1st Street, further, and also along Jackson Street because businesses have a harder time opening in those areas … Nowhere in that conversation were we thinking that this would allow a cannabis dispensary to open up … We get sued all the time for lesser than this.”
6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino noted the murky legal nature of Delta-8 THC, as well as stating that the council was misled before they voted on zoning for dispensaries last summer.
“We are all going to be doing a disservice if we don’t vote no tonight. This was done incorrectly,” she asserted.
Councilman-at-Large Jim Doyle, who also serves on the planning board, said that the planning board has limited discretion in what they review in applications, as well as how he could appreciate the perspective of those oppose.
Still, he ultimately defended the area as part of the commercial district.
“Where else in Hoboken is not residential? I appreciate that you don’t want it here. It’s hard for me to say the majority of our population of 60,000 has spoken. I’m sorry. But I’m going to be supportive of this tonight,” he concluded.
“I appreciate advocacy even when we are not on the same side,” Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour began, noting that she is a social worker, further stating that she doesn’t feel the pro-cannabis side has been vocal.
Russo then interjected again as audience members began speaking out of turn again.
“Ladies please: I will hold this council in recess until there is order, and I will postpone this vote until the end of the meeting, you can count on that.”
Jabbour noted many pro-cannabis advocates have not made themselves known publicly.
“I am concerned that the mom who get migraine headaches … or the parent who has trouble sleep at night … or the cancer patient … that those voices haven’t been part of this conversation. I am concerned there’s voices we’re not hearing from.”
2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher claimed hundreds attended the five planning board meetings and 2,000 people signed the petition against Story.
“It may not be representative of the city, but it’s 100 percent representative of the neighborhood. In August 2021, we made a mistake,” she said.
Fisher admitted to not reading the initial implementation ordinance outlining how the adult-use cannabis market would function in Hoboken and being led to believe it was not significant.
“It’s 100 percent on me,” she said, becoming emotional at times and apologizing profusely for it.
Fisher argued it would be a very busy dispensary, making traffic and congestion worse, not to mention the potential for more impaired drivers.
“It will not be operated by a 26-year-old Hoboken resident who is a Latina. It’s actually going to be operated by one of the most prolific cannabis industry executives. He’s only in it to make money. He’s not a New Jersey resident. There’s no social equity,” she said regarding Vedadi.
“Everyone in this room wants access to cannabis. We all want to. I haven’t had it in a long time, but I will. And I will inhale. Maybe tonight. You can oppose this and still have access. We are not depriving the residents of Hoboken of cannabis.”
Despite her plea, which drew heavy applause from the crowd, Russo called the vote just after 9 p.m. and the resolution was approved 5-4.
1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, Fisher, Ramos, and Giattino voted no, giving Story full local approval, though it is unlikely they will get a chance to be heard by the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission while there is pending litigation.