The Jersey City Council finally approved the $701,380,029.82 budget with a two percent tax increase that was voted down last month, also giving the green light to four cannabis dispensaries, at last night’s meeting.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
While some politicos had been eagerly awaiting for the governing body to take a crack at their annual municipal spending plan after it failed 4-3 on July 24th, the vote came without much discussion this time around.
Ward D Council Yousef Saleh reiterated that he could not support a tax increase, a point he mentioned before voting yes last year. At Monday’s caucus, he was one of several who raised concerns about spending on police overtime.
Ward E Councilman James Solomon and Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore also stayed consistent in voting against the spending plan.
“I do appreciate a much better process on the budget this year. This does raise taxes. We’re seeing the pain. We can continue to do a better job,” Solomon explained.
“Individuals who are heads of a department need to be financially responsible … My taxes have almost doubled. People were having concerns last year. We are increasing it again. I don’t feel confident like it’s the right thing to do,” Gilmore asserted.
Therefore, the budget passed 6-3, with Solomon, Gilmore, and Saleh dissenting. Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano and Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise, who were absent at last month’s special meeting, both voted yes.
While the council was also poised to vote on cannabis revisions that included capping dispensaries at 48, eight per ward, those measures were carried to September 7th meeting to address remaining concerns, Business Administrator John Metro announced.
During the public comment period, Liz Sarofiem explained she received local cannabis control board approval in July for her cannabis business Seraph & Sons. She stated that “as a minority female business owner with no partners, this was no small feat.”
She asked them to approve her dispensary, noting she has been paying rent on an empty storefront. Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley said she emailed her before the meeting began.
Frank Robinson, of Garden Greenz, argued that the so-called 600-foot distance rule in the initial ordinance protects the market share of a dispensary.
“We need to clarify this ordinance,” Leaf Joint co-owner David Jefferson added, indicating that he was against the changes since it was delaying openings even further.
Cannabis Place 420 Corp. CEO Osbert Orduna expressed dismay about the lack of clarity around the distance rule since Kushmart would be less than 600 feet from his dispensary. He has since filed a lawsuit in an attempt to remedy the situation.
As far as agenda items were concerned, attorney Steven Joseph, representing Chilltown Dispensary, noted that their owner is a disabled veteran and said they’d been waiting patiently for approval.
One of the owners, Jared Pollard, explained they’re partnering with a nonprofit to address expungement issues and indicated they had collectively already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to get to this point.
“Simply consider our journey,” Pollard added.
Alexandria Alcala, of Neon Heights, said she worked at a medical cannabis dispensary first to learn the ropes.
“These dispensaries would curtail and mitigate, the illicit cannabis industry that’s going on now. I would love for you to vote yes on the industry tonight.”
She also noted she is a 95 percent female minority business owner, which is rare.
Josh Alb, of Cannademix, also endorsed Neon Heights, citing Alcala’s work in the community. He also spoke well of Lifted Vision as well.
Julissa Bonilla, of Cannabotique by Greenhouse, thought that with only two cannabis lounges per ward in the proposed cannabis revisions, minorities and locals should be prioritized.
“I am the only woman of color opening downtown, a location once noted for its diversity,” she declared.
Bonilla also did not like that the closing time could be moved up to 11 p.m. as opposed to the initially agreed upon 1 a.m.
“I’m excited to establish a new dispensary in the community I grew up in. I have faced many challenges. Please support my resolution,” Lifted Vision CEO Jenette Rodriguez said.
Given that the council approved a six-month moratorium on dispensaries effective at the end of the day on May 15th, there were some lingering questions.
“The changes that are proposed are for applicants who filed applications after that May 15th date,” Corporation Counsel Peter Baker explained.
Gilmore wanted to see if applicants in the pipeline would still have to clear the planning board.
“Yes. Things are up for discussion,” Baker replied.
Metro explained that Neon Heights was about to be pushed, as were Kushmart and Bud Space, noting that Boggiano had issues with Neon Heights.
“I spoke to the young lady tonight. We’re going to have a meeting. We’re going to bring it up at the next meeting,” Boggiano clarified.
He noted Alcala should speak to Dickinson High School and Hudson Gardens, to which Saleh said she has already reached out to the school and the community.
“She has shown several emails with respect to reaching out to community groups … last year. We can still vote on it,” Gilmore declared.
“We’re going to table 79 (Kushmart) and 81 (Bud Space),” Council President Joyce Watterman decided.
Solomon added that Bud Space should be voted down since they did zero outreach until today.
Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey noted that Kush Klub has memorandums of understanding with the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement and Community Treasures.
Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera said that Alcala did her due diligence with Neon Lights, to which Watterman agreed and Metro recommended proceeding with the vote on her application.
“On 1071 (Kushmart), the reason we are waiting, we know there are issues with location and litigation. They don’t have an MOU with a local group,” Ridley noted.
“Neon Heights, I know this is three years in the making and more. Congratulations,” Saleh said, also urging them to continue to work with Boggiano’s office.
Watterman abstained from the cannabis dispensary resolutions since her daughter co-owns a pending business.
“Our whole intent was the locals were served first. There’s a lot you can’t control. It’s all new. I’m always advocating for small business,” she added.
Ultimately, Neon Heights, Lifted Vision, Kush Klub, and Chilltown dispensaries were all approved 7-1-1, with Boggiano voting no and Watterman abstaining.