A New Jersey cannabis license applicant is suing Hopewell Borough and alleging corruption after failing to secure a cannabis dispensary license while Evolve Sky did.
She is alleging that Mayor Paul Anzano was instrumental in the city’s only dispensary license going to Evolve Sky/Turning Leaf. Kumer’s cannabis lawsuit says this was a New Jersey backroom deal.
“Most of that stuff is factually not… accurate. That’s all I’ll say,” Anzano said about the allegations.
Anzano is a partner at the Pringle, Quinn, and Anzano law firm.
The applicant believes they were a client of his firm.
“Their application was never reviewed by the Council per the decision of the BA (Business Administrator) and the Borough attorney,” the applicant’s cannabis attorney said.
Hopewell Borough is a small town outside Princeton in Mercer County.
On January 12th, the Borough Council awarded a cannabis dispensary license to Evolve Sky, LLC at 57 Hamilton Street. It happened despite the best efforts of the other cannabis license applicants to be considered.
2018 Medical Cannabis Application
Evolve Sky’s owner first applied under the name Turning Leaf Centers. They’re a Massachusetts-based dispensary. It did so in the 2018 New Jersey Medical Marijuana Request For Applications (RFA) round for a vertically integrated Alternative Treatment Center. It would have allowed them to operate a cultivation, manufacturing, and dispensary cannabis company at 57 Hamilton Avenue.
At the time, Hopewell did not allow any medical marijuana uses under their zoning.
Through emails and documents obtained under the Open Public Meetings Act (OPRA), the applicant found Anzano helped Evolve Sky’s owner Joseph Matheson, and his deputy Sajid Khan. He wrote a letter of support on behalf of the Borough to the NJ Department of Health.
Anzano and Borough Administrator Michele Hovan assisted Turning Leaf’s Kahn throughout the application process.
It was unbeknownst to residents and most council members that they did so.
The borough council never voted on that municipal support letter. But that was not uncommon then. It was thought a letter from a mayor was sufficient to secure local support during that license round.
Turning Leaf Centers was ultimately denied a license on December 17, 2018, when six other cannabis corporations that are Multi-State Operators (MSOs) were chosen in the highly competitive round.
New Jersey Adult Use Cannabis Dispensary Games
Khan emailed Anzano and Hovan under the new company name “Evolve Sky, LLC.” He requested assistance obtaining a property and a zoning letter for the dispensary.
On November 8, 2021, Anzano emailed Khan using his personal email and referring to himself as his “advisor,” detailing what steps they would need to take to secure the Hopewell Borough location.
“It’s problematic that he’s using all these different email addresses because no one knows in what capacity he is acting,” Lustig said.
Then on November 10, 2021, Khan said that Anzano, in his capacity as mayor, had found a good location for them. He also wrote in that email they need to resume holding weekly meetings.
Anzano replied, saying, “I will give you a call on this.”
Anzano did call Khan a friend.
“We have had dinner on occasions,” he said. “It’s a small state. You bump into people all the time. I know a lot of people. He has no relation to the law firm.”
At that time, Hopewell Borough had an ordinance that banned all cannabis companies.
Khan, a Freehold resident, has been in recent legal trouble for failure to pay back a $150,000 promissory due on April 13, 2017. The Bergen County court case went to an arbitration hearing on April 11, 2023.
Previously, he was sued by Riverview Bay Medical Center for failure to pay a settlement cost of $50,000 in connection with his role at First Health at Woodbridge, LLC.
Dispensary Approval in Hopewell Borough
Anzano noted Hopewell Borough initially opted out in 2021. But then they opted in a year later.
On September 8, 2022, the Hopewell Borough Council passed a cannabis ordinance allowing only one cannabis dispensary and an unlimited number of cannabis delivery licenses.
“We ultimately decided to permit in the borough was the one dispensary and technically unlimited delivery licenses,” Anzano explained.
An RFA was issued on October 27th. Applications were due December 15th.
“We received three applicants for the dispensary and chose one,” Anzano explained.
NJ Town Cannabis Licensing Process Questions
He contacted the zoning officer on behalf of Evolve Sky to get them a last-minute mandatory zoning letter on December 12th.
Anzano told Heady NJ they have been operating in Massachusetts with two locations and a license in New Jersey.
“Anything I did for the applicant, I would have and did for any other applicant,” he argued. “I do not have a business relationship with them but had a prior friend relationship.”
Anzano explained he showed them the right direction and ensured borough employees were responsive “as a function of mayor… making sure my questions got answers. I don’t even know what those answers were.”
The judges of the RFA application were municipal attorneys Lisa Maddox and Hovan, who assisted Khan in 2018. They evaluated the applicants and wrote a recommendation memo to the Council.
In Hopewell Borough, the mayor is a councilman chosen by his peers. He retains his vote on the Council while mayor.
Anzano recused himself on the issue on January 6th. He said he was friends with the applicant before the January 12th council meeting announcing Evolve Sky as the winner.
Councilman Ryan Kennedy was recused as well.
Also, on January 6th, Hovan emailed Khan detailing the process of how they were going to win.
The fact that the Mayor and the Borough Administrator helped Evolve Sky was not disclosed prior to the January 12th meeting.
“I can’t really comment because I don’t know what happened on the council level,” Anzano said. “This was the one applicant who met all criteria.”
He noted the Clerk accepted the other New Jersey cannabis license application. But they submitted it late and incomplete, according to him.
Anzano noted there were limited location options in the Green Zone where cannabis companies are allowed.
Evolve Sky Wins Local Dispensary Approval
“The council wound up not considering it because it was late and incomplete,” Anzano noted. “I can’t comment on the merits or anything in merits to that.”
The cannabis license applicant said it does not even appear that the council members who voted for Evolve Sky were aware of their relationship history.
They have no community connections and are not women or minority-owned. It was supposed to be valued in Hopewell Borough according to their law.
Anzano said Evolve Sky is now trying to get a permanent (or more likely an annual license) from the NJ-CRC.