Jersey City Council discusses capping cannabis dispensaries at 55, equity issues, at caucus

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The Jersey City Council discussed their proposal to cap adult-use cannabis dispensary licenses at 55, along with possible equity issues, during their caucus yesterday.

Photo via wired.com.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

Commerce Director Maynard Woodson noted Cream Dispensary is poised get council consideration to open at 284 1st St. They were approved by the Jersey City Cannabis Control Board in September.

“Have they met with the local neighborhood association? If they’re in Ward E,
I’d like to meet them to meet the neighborhood before we give them final approval,” Ward E Councilman James Solomon said.

“Just let us know about this one. The neighborhood association likes to meet beforehand,” City Council President Joyce Watterman added.

Woodson also noted the adult-use cannabis dispensary cap is on the agenda for second reading.

“I really want to get this right the first time. The legalization of marijuana has been an attempt to right societal wrongs. I look at this, and I see no approved locations in Ward F. A Black person is l7 times more likely to get arrested,” began Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore.

“We’re legalized marijuana, and the individuals penalized the most don’t look to be benefitting the most, and we’re capping it. I would like to see some mechanism of dispersing dispensaries. When we’re capping, we need to make sure we’re talking about equity. We just don’t want the people with money to get in there.”

Woodson said they would have to discuss that with the Law Department, but also indicated that Gilmore was correct in that the majority of the applications that have been heard are not on the south side of the city.

“Is there any way to encourage to set up their establishments in the south side of the city? Are there any community organization efforts to inform the legacy markets?,” Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh asked.

“I think that makes sense to reach out to the legacy market. But we would have to do outreach. It’s not an inexpensive endeavor to get into this business,” Woodson replied.

The entrepreneurs succeeding the most are serial businesspeople who are adept at political maneuvering, often with powerful friends and/or deep pockets.

“Can we hold information sessions in the south side? I am concerned about limiting the number of cannabis retail locations.”

Brittany Murray, a part of the Law Department, said they could look into having such a mechanism.

One of the issues is that Jersey City only allows dispensaries in certain business districts known as the “Green Zone.”

“It’s an issue of the market. I think we can encourage the market to move into those areas or provide ample information. We had x amount of applicants that chose their own locations … including some diverse vendors,” explained Business Administrator John Metro said.

He said they could work with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

“So, is capping it at 55 the answer?,” Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera asked.

“Capping it at 55 would create potentially market stabilization. With the current applicants and applications, we do have about 20 to 25 slots left,” Metro replied, noting that geographic diversity is not mandated.

“They saying they have a site but it’s not guaranteed. Part of the issue is finding a site. That’s the challenge right now, finding a site. If we get to 55, I’ll be amazed,” Watterman added.

Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey noted this could lead to the same problem the city has with liquor licenses, where people acquire licenses but don’t end up putting them to use.

She also alluded to St. Peter’s University’s lawsuit attempting to halt a dispensary from coming to their neighborhood.

“A lot of people are putting in a lot of time and money,” Prinz-Arey said. “They’re investing eight months to a year, knowing it might take that long. I agree caps are a good idea. We do need to do a little more to make sure it is fair and equitable,” the councilwoman added.

“Since we have the UEZ, the CDC people, is there a way we can make a work incubator so people … in the Black and Brown communities can have some type of access? For some of them they thought they secured a site, and they go back to the landlord and the landlord done tripled the price. They’re … already priced out,” Watterman chimed in.

She was wary of Multi-State Operators (MSOs) from other states using a few minority individuals to their advantage.

“They’ll diminish them one way or another. Then the Black and Brown community is pretty much left out. We have these UEZ dollars, and they supposed to help, can we make a business incubator?,” Watterman asked.

Jersey City Economic Development Corporation Director Florence Baron said such a project was already on their agenda, working on bringing a small business incubator to Martin Luther King Drive.

“There are a number of vacant storefronts in that area. If the city can work … with these landlords to push through businesses and use them as incubators and have less empty storefronts,” added Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise added.

“To operate some of these facilities, the building has to be primarily owned by a sole entity. What happens is supply and demand as it exists, these owners now know that,” Metro said.

He noted that rent can often go from $2,000 a month to $8,000 a month during negotiations.

“Can we put an ordinance together to sort of limit the amount in rent?,” Saleh asked.

Murray said the subject is researchable.

“They do it for credit cards. There’s got to be something that protects people from being taken advantage of. It could also lower the barrier to entry in terms of fees on the city level for minority applicants. We can make it into zones. We’re trying to address an equity issue that spans decades before any of us were on the council. We want people to have a fair shot,” Saleh continued.

Woodson also pointed out that as other parts of the city become saturated, the south side of the city would be ripe for opportunities.

“They’re in the process of creating this incubator. I really don’t want to rush that we cap it, and we get it wrong, and there’s systematic suppression happening. We should really make sure we get it right. I think it just calls for a meeting of all entities, just to be fair, just to be transparent,” Gilmore stated.

The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission recently announced they are working on a program to address the issue on the state level. However, it remains to be seen how soon that will help conditional licensees who are struggling.

“We should proceed with the 55 just for the market cap, and I think we should look at these 20 designations and solely concentrate them on the south side of the city,” Metro said.

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