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Jersey City Cannabis Board OKs 2 Dispensaries, Adjourns 3

The Jersey City Cannabis Board approved two cannabis dispensary applications and adjourned three which had problems.

Kreme of the Pot Simmers

Kreme of the Pot at 50 Journal Square was first. They were tabled at the last meeting. Attorney Elnardo Webster asked to be adjourned to June 12th.

They were adjourned unanimously 4-0, with Commissioner Courtney Sloane absent.

Local Vietnamese-Owned VT 420 LLC

VT 420 LLC at 840 Communipaw Ave was next. Attorney Fruqan Mouzon explained they’re Vietnamese immigrants and serial businesspeople based in Jersey City.

Khemraj Ramchal said he was there on behalf of Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea. He said they spoke with Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey on their behalf. Ramchal said they’re very civically minded.

“They’ve been helping us with our non-profit helping feeding the community,” he explained.

Phillip Kenney 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.

“Our family has been living in Jersey City for a long time,” Michael Van said. He explained how civically minded they were.

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 said 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 ten years. She’s been through chemotherapy. “Finally, the doctor decided to give her edible cannabis. It helped her a lot,” Ksoa explained.

His friend Hoonz Van said he moved to Jersey City in 1990 and started working for a liquor store. He took it over a few years after and ran it for 27 years before selling it recently.

“Who’s going to handle the day-to-day operations?” CCB attorney Ron Mondello asked.

“I’m going to handle that,” Ksoa said.

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.

The Jersey City Cannabis Control Board approved them 4-0, with Commissioner Courtney Sloane absent.

Retreat NJ With Strong Massachusetts Ties

Retreat NJ, LLC at 656 Grand Street was next. Their attorney Allyson Reynolds said they were approved by the NJCRC last month.

Commissioner Jeff Kaplowitz asked if Retreat was based in Delaware.

“It’s a New Jersey LLC,” Reynolds said.

Kaplowitz noted that the revised lease said the cannabis dispensary would be controlled by Andrew Koudijs, the CEO of Henep, where majority owner Natalie Benson works.

“On the application, you just have the two individuals,” Kaplowitz noted.

Reynolds said he is a Massachusetts cannabis company owner in an advisory role.

“Is the lease in his name?” Kaplowitz asked.

Reynolds said his interest in the least was signed to Retreat LLC.

Benson of Andover, Massachusetts, said she has been in the cannabis industry for four years.

“I’m assuming Andrew was getting in charge of getting the lease and was working on behalf of Retreat and said it over,” Kaplowitz said.

“Yes,” Reynolds said.

Ownership Questions

Benson said she wants to help their developing community.

“Is that the only thing you can tell me about the neighborhood?” Kaplowitz asked.

“That’s why we engaged with Cory,” Benson said. “I’m new to the area. I’m not going to lie. If there’s specifically things, you’d think most helpful to learn… I will definitely take that to heart.”

“So, you’re new to the area or you’re visiting? City Health and Human Services Director and CCB Commissioner Stacey Flanagan asked.

“We both for sure have the intention to move down here,” Benson said.

She noted they have held community meetings and answered community questions.

“Do you own a dispensary in Massachusetts?” CCB Chair Brittani Bunney asked.

“I work at one,” Benson said.

“This is Alex, not the person that’s paying for the lease,” Flanagan said.

“I’m paying for the lease,” Benson insisted.

“The certificate of formation indicates that Andrew (Koudijs) is a manager or member,” Mondello said.

Reynolds said they have an operating agreement filed after the certificate of formation whereby Benson is the 95 percent owner.

Community Outreach Ideas

“Should we be tabling this?” Flanagan asked.

“The certificate of formation in New Jersey has another individual who’s not on the application and it hasn’t been … revised,” Kaplowitz said.

“It’s not an issue as long as he comes off this,” Mondello said.

“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 noted someone named “Colin Noel” was on the application.

He is the Director of Operations of Henep where Benson works.

“That certificate of formation needs to be amended,” Reynolds said.

“Why are they there?” Kaplowitz asked.

Application Confusion

“They were consultants when the entity was formed. It was determined that they would not have an interest in this business,” Reynolds said.

“How’d you choose Jersey City?” Kaplowitz asked.

“New Jersey seemed like a really great place. We wanted to choose Jersey City because it’s one of the most diverse cities in the nation,” NB said.

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 said.

The mandated five percent local owner Alex Santiago said he lived in Ridgefield Park and wants to move to Jersey City. So he decided to base the cannabis dispensary here.

“Tell us how you were able to get this kind of capital,” Flanagan asked.

“It’s been a lot of saving, hard work,” Benson argued.

“95 percent of the ownership doesn’t live here. Why should we approve this? Flanagan asked.

“May I request we table this?” Reynolds asked.

The CCB tabled their cannabis dispensary application unanimously 4-0.

Seraph and Sons Approved

Seraph and Sons LLC at 784 Garfield Avenue was next. Attorney Mark McHale said majority owner Elizabeth Sarofiem wants a micro license and has an NJCRC license.

She said she is a local 1st generation Egyptian American. Sarofiem has worked at Morgan Stanley in the financial industry for five years and has been promoted to Vice President.

“I believe it will translate over and allow me to succeed in this rapidly developing cannabis industry,” she said.

Sarofiem said she was pulled over for a faulty brake light and arrested for possession.

“Ward F and Ward A have historically been victimized by the War on Drugs,” she declared said.

“Can we just shift the focus to your community impact plan?” Bunney asked.

Sarofiem said her cannabis dispensary would give donations to Kids First and Community First. She explained she sponsored an Easter Egg hunt at Pershing Field this past Saturday. Sarofiem also wants 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,” Kaplowitz joked. “I think this application hit all the marks.”

The Jersey City Cannabis Control Board approved the Seraph and Sons cannabis dispensary 4-0, with Commissioner Courtney Sloane absent.

Altalune Delayed Again

Altalune at 433 Palisades Avenue was next. They were denied in February. Altalune was going to open at 288 Central Ave, where there were distance concerns in the Heights in the north of Jersey City.

“It’s a new application with a new location,” Mondello noted.

Attorney Heather Kumer admitted the information is largely similar.

“There’s too much cannabis operations in the Heights,” Kaplowitz said. “I specifically stated I liked the application they made. They should go to another part of the city. This is 4 blocks away from it.”

Distance Issues on Central Avenue in the Heights

Kumer said they got a map of Central Ave. She argued that was specifically what was denied.

“We did a meeting with the RNA (Riverview Neighborhood Association). Plus, we did certified mail,” Kumer said.

“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 said.

“We’re looking at it as a ward,” Kaplowitz said. “There’s too many in the Heights and too many downtown. Fifty percent of them are going to fail.”

“They spent money to be on this application,” Kumer said.

“You specifically said Central Avenue. The word “the Heights” was never brought up,” Richard Fierro of Ringwood, NJ said. “We spoke to (Planning Supervisor) Matt Ward, who approved the site.”

He added said their team spoke to Jersey City Commerce Director Maynard Woodson.

Woodson said they asked about daycare center distance issues.

“I didn’t give input on any applications,” he added.

Bunney said Woodson merely noted it’s in the Green Zone.

“I feel like it’s a he said, she said issue,” Kumer said.

“I would rather make a motion to adjourn,” Bunney said.

“No one wants a Heights concentration,” Kumer said.

“There’s a lack of funding,” Kumer said about cannabis companies.

“That’s why we asked the council for a pause,” Bunney said. “Let everybody play catch up.”

They were adjourned 4-0.

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