The Jersey City Cannabis Control Board adjourned three dispensary applications and approved two others at last night’s meeting.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
Kreme of the Pot, seeking to operate at 50 Journal Square, was first on the agenda after being tabled at the last meeting. Their attorney, Elnardo Webster, asked to be adjourned again to June 12th.
Therefore, they were adjourned unanimously (4-0), with Commissioner Courtney Sloane absent.
VT 420 LLC, at 840 Communipaw Ave., was up next. Attorney Fruqan Mouzon explained they’re Vietnamese immigrants and with numerous Jersey City businesses.
Former Ward B Councilman Khemraj “Chico” Ramchal said he was there on behalf of Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea (D-2).
He also said they spoke with Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey on behalf of the applicants, who Ramchal described as very civically minded.
“They’ve been helping us with our non-profit helping feeding the community,” he explained.
Phil Kenny, of the South Hudson Civic Association, said he has known them for 20 years, during which they have helped with Christmas, Easter, and senior events regularly.
Ksoa Tran said he arrived in the United States in 1993 and moved to Jersey City in 1995.
“How’d you end up in Jersey City?” Mouzon asked.
Ksoa replied that he worked at a nail salon in Jersey City first. He took over the business when the original owner left the area and has done so since.
“My sister … she got cancer for about 10 years. She’s been through chemotherapy. Finally, the doctor decided to give her edible cannabis. It helped her a lot,” Ksoa explained.
UFCW union representative Jake Pinelli spoke in their favor since they signed an agreement they would not interfere if their workers sought to join a union.
They were approved unanimously (4-0).
Retreat NJ, LLC, with an address at 656 Grand St., was the next application heard. Their counsel, Allyson Reynolds, said they were approved by the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) last month.
Commissioner Jeff Kaplowitz asked if Retreat was based in Delaware, to which Reynolds said they are based out of New Jersey.
Kaplowitz noted that the revised lease said it would be controlled by Andrew Koudijs, the CEO of Henep, where majority owner Natalie Benson works.
“I’m assuming Andrew was getting in charge of getting the lease and was working on behalf of Retreat and signed it over,” Kaplowitz said.
“Yes,” Reynolds answered.
Commissioner Stacey Flanagan, also the director of the city’s Department of Health and Human Services, asked if she was new to the area or just visiting.
“We both for sure have the intention to move down here,” Benson responded. Flanagan also acknowledged that they have held community meetings and answered questions.
“Do you own a dispensary in Massachusetts?” CCB Chair Brittani Bunney asked.
“I work at one,” Benson said, later indicating he is paying for the lease, which led to a bit of confusion.
“The certificate of formation indicates that Andrew [Koudijs] is a manager or member,” Mondello said.
Reynolds said they had an operating agreement filed after the certificate of formation that says Benson is the 95 percent owner.
“Should we be tabling this? … This is where the confusion becomes ‘who’s on first.’ It makes it really uncomfortable for us to make decisions when we don’t have the full information,” Flanagan said.
Bunney also pointed out that a Colin Noel was on the application, the director of operations of Henep where Benson works.
“That certificate of formation needs to be amended,” Reynolds said, indicating consultants were initially placed on the paperwork before deciding they would not be included.
Outreach Director and Jersey City Young Democrats President Cory Garriga said they partnered with SCORES Re-entry to help felons get driver’s licenses that expired.
“Every person who comes in front of us wants to do business with SCORES,” Flanagan said. Who else might you do business with?”
“That’s why I took the extra step. There’s the Morris Canal Development Corp. with Junes Jones we connected with. We’re putting on an entrepreneur seminar,” Garriga added.
The mandated five percent local owner Alex Santiago said he lived in Ridgefield Park and wants to move to Jersey City, therefore he wanted the dispensary based there.
“Tell us how you were able to get this kind of capital,” Flanagan asked.
“It’s been a lot of saving, hard work,” Benson answered.
“95 percent of the ownership doesn’t live here. Why should we approve this?” Flanagan questioned.
At that point, Reynolds asked to be tabled and she was obliged unanimously (4-0).
Seraph and Sons LLC, located at 784 Garfield Ave., was next. Attorney Mark Makhail said majority owner Elizabeth Sarophiem wants a micro license and has an NJCRC license.
She explained she is a local 1st generation Egyptian American. She has worked at Morgan Stanley in the financial industry for five years and was promoted to vice president.
“I believe it will translate over and allow me to succeed in this rapidly developing cannabis industry … Ward F and Ward A have historically been victimized by the War on Drugs,” Sarophiem said.
“Can we just shift the focus to your community impact plan?” Bunney asked.
Sarophiem said she would give donations to Kids First and Community First. She also explained she c0-sponsored an Easter Egg hunt at Pershing Field on Saturday.
Furthermore she expressed wanting to help give Hudson County Community College (HCCC) scholarships. They would also allow employees to volunteer with non-profits on their time.
HCCC Dean of Business, Culinary Arts, and Hospitality Management, Dr. Ara Karakashian, endorsed their application.
“She has supported our programs without making a single cannabis sale,” he said.
“Cannabis and food always go good together. I think this application hit all the marks,” Kaplowitz joked before they were approved unanimously (4-0).
After being denied in February, Altalune was back. Given that Central Avenue, their prior location, was oversaturated with dispensaries already, they pivoted to 433 Palisade Ave.
“It’s a new application with a new location,” Mondello noted.
Attorney Heather Kumer stated aside from their address, the application hadn’t changed much, to the chagrin of Kaplowitz.
“There’s too much cannabis operations in the Heights. I specifically stated I liked the application they made. They should go to another part of the city. This is four blocks away from it.”
Kumer reiterated that they were denied simply for seeking a location on Central Avenue and that circumstances had since changed.
“We did a meeting with the RNA (Riverview Neighborhood Association). Plus, we did certified mail,” Kumer added.
“There are 15 applications in the Heights that have been approved. This is part of why we asked for the pause. We know some of them are going to fail. We are getting negative feedback from Heights residents. It’s creating a quality-of-life issue in the Heights,” Bunney responded.
Kaplowitz concurred, noting that estimates have 50 percent of dispensaries failing in the first year.
“They spent money to be on this application,” Kumer interjected.
“You specifically said Central Avenue. The word ‘the Heights”’was never brought up. We spoke to [Supervisor Planner] Matt Ward, who approved the site.”
He added said their team spoke to Jersey City Commerce Director Maynard Woodson.
However, Woodson said they asked about how close they could be located to a day care and he didn’t give any input on the specifics of the application.
“I didn’t give input on any applications,” he added.
Bunney said Woodson merely noted it’s in the Green Zone where cannabis companies are allowed.
While Kumer pleaded for a vote in the midst of an argument with Kaplowitz, Bunney made a motion to adjourn when the fighting wouldn’t cease.
The application was adjourned unanimously (4-0).