Joy Leaf Anja Life Highway Highland Park New Jersey cannabis dispensary

More New Jersey cannabis dispensaries have opened, including Anja Life, Highway 90, Cloud Nine, and Joy Leaf.

Many of the 2019-2021 licensed New Jersey medical cannabis dispensaries have been converting to adult-use/recreational sales in addition. Thus, the race to open dispensaries and be in the first 100 has gotten even more intense.

Anja Life Dispensary Opens in Highland Park

The Anja Life Dispensary opened its doors as an adult-use Cannabis Dispensary in Highland Park in Middlesex County.

They are owned by minorities from New York.

When so much effort went into legalizing cannabis in New Jersey, it matters who is benefiting. Owners set a company’s leadership, culture, and mission besides the goal of making money.

People from out of state often beat underfunded locals for highly desired locations.

While many of them are cannabis corporations that are Multi-State Operators (MSO), this is the first dispensary opened by the owners. In addition, the CEO is Hispanic. Unfortunately, that is a far too rare occurrence in the New Jersey cannabis industry and the world at large. They said in a press release the majority of the staff is local.

“We are thrilled to be the first dispensary to open its doors in Highland Park,” Anja CEO Julio Casado declared. “We are committed to providing safe, high-quality cannabis products to the community.”

“Highland Park is just culturally a nice fit for us. It’s a diverse community. It’s a progressive community. They were very welcoming,” he said.

Casado noted New Jersey and New York are closely entwined culturally.

New Jersey Cannabis Dispensary Grand Opening

“We’re pleased to welcome Anja Life LLC and wish them all much success in opening their new store in Highland Park and attracting a customer base in our area,” Highland Park Mayor Elsie Foster exclaimed.

She added they “are delighted to see them become part of our business community.”

Anja Life dispensary said it will be staffed by knowledgeable and trained professionals who can assist cannabis consumers in selecting products that best suit their needs.

Casado said the name Anja is a play on the cannabis synonym “ganja” and refers to a term in ancient Sanskrit that means to manifest.

Their Grand Opening was delayed by several months. Nonetheless, he said the New Jersey cannabis market is functioning better than other state markets.

“I’m happy to finally be here. We’re doing a lot of work to get to the starting line. We just started the race or a marathon of being a dispensary,” Casado declared.

Last spring, they threw a mini festival called Anjafest at their place. Casado said they are planning another annual Anja Fest.

Unique Dispensary Space

The Anja Life dispensary had cupcakes with purple frosting matching their branding to celebrate their Grand Opening in Highland Park. It is a spacious place to walk around. In fact, Casado said they previously had the New Jersey cannabis company Sanna Ohana hold a yoga class there.

There is enough room for chairs and a little table with a shelf of books. There was even a big bathroom available. Anja Life had a modest parking lot, too, along with ample street parking.

Some of their New Jersey cannabis floor counters had a unique method of smelling flower terpenes. There were little jars you could press down on to smell it. A screen then went into detail about the flower.

Terpenes or Terps contribute heavily to the smell and, thus, taste and effect of cannabis. So the Anja Life dispensary even had an explanation of some terpenes* in the wall.

Joy Leaf Anja Life Highway Highland Park New Jersey cannabis dispensary

They didn’t have a soft opening, so they had to deal with the computer errors common with technical regulatory software.

New Jersey cannabis entrepreneur Visine Queen attended the Grand Opening but had mixed feelings about the legal market due to the high price of cannabis of legal New Jersey cannabis.

“I would prefer to buy legacy flower than dispensary flower in bulk because it’s just a better quality in the long run. I’ll buy a pre-roll or two at the dispensary. But not more than that,” she said. “It’s too expensive. I’d rather go to a guy.”

Many of the brands available were white-labeled from the existing companies.

However, they are also selling the infused strips from the New Jersey cannabis edible manufacturer ButACake.

Anja Life eventually wants to white-label its own brand, too.

Highland Park Dispensary Ownership Background

Casado said he moved to Metuchen, nearby in Middlesex County. He previously lived in the Bronx, NY. Casado has a background in consulting and marketing. The NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJ-CRC) award letter was sent to an address of his at 50 Murray Street in Lower Manhattan.

Founder & Chief Wellness Officer Padmaja Malladi is a New Yorker. She is a doctor with experience in business, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Co-founder and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Migna Guzman is a New Yorker, according to her LinkedIn. She cited the healing power of cannabis fueling her passion for entering the industry in a blog post. She worked for the fashion brand Liz Claiborne and managed property and investments. MG was also the CFO of a Puerto Rican non-profit.

Co-founder Claudia Granados said her parents grew cannabis at home.

That remains a felony criminal offense in New Jersey.

She explained she immigrated with her family from El Salvador. According to LinkedIn, she is a lobbyist who used to work for Senator Cory Booker when he was the Mayor of Newark. She worked with the Mayor and Council President of Highland Park through the process. At one point, they used an address in Newark for financial reporting purposes.

The marketing lead, Ashley Robins, says she lives in Highland Park. She studied Hemp Science at Cornell University, according to her company blog post.

Their conversion to a full New Jersey cannabis dispensary license necessary to open was approved by the NJ-CRC last August.

Highway 90 Dispensary Opens in Evesham

The Highway 90 dispensary opened in the Marlton neighborhood of Evesham in Burlington County on Marlton Pike West. They held a Grand Opening ceremony with a ribbon cutting last Friday.

Mike Wiehl on The Dispensary Guy show he hosts on YouTube, described going to Highway 90 dispensary. He said they had pizza at the Grand Opening. Many Philly Eagles fans were present too, since it’s in South Jersey.

“Great time, good pizza,” Wiehl said.

He noted the UFCW union was present for the Highway 90 opening as they are at many dispensaries. They want to organize the budtenders and professionals.

Wiehl said they had no kiosks or screens to order on their dispensary floor. That makes their dispensary unique.

Thus, the New Jersey budtenders must be very knowledgeable.

“You go in one on one,” he noted.

According to 70and73.com, Highway 90 owner Alex Lahn is a local. His family owns Lahn Hospitality & Amusement Group, which runs the Legacy Club at Woodcrest golf course in Cherry Hill and the Mount Laurel Funplex amusement complex.

They received their official New Jersey cannabis dispensary license in December.

Cloud Nine Dispensary Opens in North Plainfield

Cloud Nine or C9 dispensary, recently opened at 513 Route 22 North Plainfield in Somerset County.

“Thank you to the town of North Plainfield, who have supported us from day one. Thank you to our employees who have been working around the clock to make this day possible. And most of all, Thank you to the residents of North Plainfield who have been so patient and so encouraging and who have literally willed us to the finish line,” General Manager John O’Leary declared.  

“We’re also well aware of how hard independent cultivators and manufacturers are working to get their products to market. And we’re really looking forward to supporting them in any way we can,” he added.

Cloud Nine called itself a ‘Mom & Pop’ dispensary that could employ about 25 locals and feature many New Jersey cannabis products.

They were hesitant to disclose their owners. Cynthia Vasquez of Jersey received the NJ-CRC award letter.

Joy Leaf NJ Dispensary Co-owned By Former TerrAscend CEO Opens

The Joy Leaf dispensary recently opened in Roselle Borough in Union County.

One of the owners is Jason Ackerman. He is the former Chairman and CEO of the cannabis corporation Multi-State Operator (MSO) TerrAscend, which is in trouble again with the NJ-CRC.

Unfortunately, people in corporate positions like those formerly held by Ackerman in the cannabis industry are often against home grow.

He could not be reached for comment on the issue.

The dispensary was formerly a wall cover factory owned by Ackerman’s family. His family’s business operated in Roselle for over 50 years.

Roselle Dispensary Ownership Background

A Roselle native, Ackerman founded Fresh Direct, a prominent online grocery delivery service.

“I’ve had the opportunity to experience the joy of being an entrepreneur, and I’ve always believed in empowering like-minded innovators to break barriers and enter new frontiers,” he declared.

Joy Leaf dispensary was co-founded by Ackerman and his former deputy Dharshini Casinathen, a Sri Lankan Canadian American. She said they’re both New Jersey medical cannabis patients.

“We are proud to have the support and partnership of the Roselle Borough Council as we usher in a new industry,” Casinathen said.

The process was not ideal, according to some.

She grew up in low-income housing in Toronto, Canada, and now lives in Jersey City. Casinathen said she found the plant in her late 30s. She is now a certified Ganjier or cannabis consumption expert.

She is an accountant with over 20 years of experience in finance, with notable roles at KPMG Canada and PepsiCo before working for TerrAscend and launching Joy Leaf with Ackerman.

Like many others, Casinathen was critical of the typical New Jersey cannabis dispensary experience.

“My experience wasn’t curated for me. There’s not a lot of product selection right now,” she admitted.

Thus, they want to try to be different by emphasizing friendliness. Casinathen said they invested in training the team to be really knowledgeable and warm.

In addition, they plan to showcase new operators and give them space.

She replied in response to a question regarding dispensary company ownership to find the ownership table. The annual NJ-CRC dispensary license award letter for Joy Leaf went to Jane Schwartz of nearby Rahway also in Union County. She is the registered business agent.

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Dan Ulloa
Dan Ulloa is the Editor and Publisher of Heady NJ, with a background in politics, journalism, and a passion for the cannabis community. He curates and publishes news, events, and insights on the industry. Dan has been a leading voice in the New Jersey cannabis scene, educating and informing the public about this rapidly evolving industry. He ranked #35 on the INSIDER NJ Cannabis Power List out of 100 in 2022.