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Paterson Social Equity Cannabis Dispensary Makes Progress

Despite problems with City Hall, John De Los Santos is making progress opening a Paterson cannabis dispensary under the names Royal Roll/Buzzed Buds.

He is a 31-year-old Dominican American who served in the Marine Corps Reserve. De Los Santos is a Social Equity applicant trying to open a cannabis dispensary in his hometown of Paterson in Passaic County.

His company is Royal Roll LLC. His partners are Buzzed Buds.

De Los Santos has closely followed the New Jersey and Paterson cannabis processes. The pursuit, unfortunately, ended his EMT career.

“As an EMT, you get drug tested. They frown upon the culture of cannabis. It’s not yet widely accepted,” he noted.

So, De Los Santos began working part-time for his dad in shoe repair.

The Royal Roll cannabis dispensary is his first business.

He explained they secured a conditional New Jersey cannabis dispensary license from the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJ-CRC) last June.  

De Los Santos hopes to serve his community through charity, involvement, and employing locals.

They have narrowly kept their conditional license so far. Thankfully they could renew it because they had the real estate portion figured out last time. It is the 3rd extension of his conditional license. It expires on October 21st.

Companies have been losing their conditional cannabis licenses due to a lack of progress on property and town approval after a few extensions.

Unique Cannabis Company Management Deal

De Los Santos is working with the Canadian cannabis corporation Buzzed Buds. They are a service management group. His would be their flagship American store. He called them a “great group” in contrast to a lot of greedy people in the process of securing funds.  

On their website, they describe their franchising process.

De Los Santos explained they were in great contrast with a dispensary in Massachusetts that “wanted to take everything and leave me with pennies and dimes. They were the complete opposite.”

In the deal, he stays the majority owner.

“At no point am I forced to sell or relinquish part of the business,” De Los Santos explained.

The investor group consists of Californians and Canadians.

Cannabis Real Estate Problems

De Los Santos said finding real estate for his Paterson cannabis dispensary “was the hardest thing to do.”

Finding a property within the zoning that Paterson imposed was very difficult. Unfortunately, they created a very small Green Zone where cannabis companies are allowed.

Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh noted to Heady NJ that applicants must select a site away from schools and churches and have the financial resources to pay.

Paterson is only allowing cannabis companies in industrial areas or mixed-use zones. Cannabis companies must be 300 feet from homes, houses of worship, and schools.

This was a compromise to convince city council members to pass a pro-cannabis ordinance Sayegh noted to Heady NJ.

After he vetoed the Council’s 2021 ban, Paterson passed an ordinance last September.

“There’s like 30 to 40 schools,” De Los Santos exclaimed. “Having those constraints limits a lot of places.”

The home exclusion is especially strict and makes it far worse. Paterson became a major city with the Industrial Revolution. Many clothing factories were based there. But most of them have since closed. It has left the city with vacant properties that cannabis companies could occupy.

“There’s a lot of abandoned places. But it won’t work out,” he noted.

For example, they found a good property on Route 20 that was perfect for a dispensary. But there was a school behind it.

“After a 10-month search, we were able to find a property that was properly in the I-2 zone (Industrial 2) and put the property we put under contract,” De Los Santos explained.

The property was formerly Nicholas’s Diner for 42 years on E. Railway Ave. The owner has Parkinson’s. His daughter wanted to sell it. They wanted a deal done quickly. So, they imposed a 90-day due diligence period for them to get local.

Paterson Cannabis Issues at City Hall

The investment team traveled to Paterson on May 8th to meet with Sayegh and his Chief of Staff Christian Callegari.

“We were encouraged to hand in our application. We were told the process would start after we handed in the application,” De Los Santos noted.

He said he “encouraged us to turn in our application with the $30,000 fee and that there was likely a path forward with the zoning issue.”

“We turned in our application on May 9th,” De Los Santos noted.

Royal Roll and Buzzed Buds were initially told it only would take a month to review and then they would move on to the Council.

Paterson Cannabis Licensing Process

Paterson is supposed have several officials review the application within 30 days. Those officials are the city’s Law Director, a mayoral appointee, the Council President, an at Large Councilmember, and the Chief of Police. The Economic Development Director oversees the process. He sends their recommendations to the Council for approval.

“We get them in touch with someone,” Sayegh explained.

He was not familiar with Royal Roll off the top of his head.

“We can put them in touch with the right person. We’re looking to expand,” Sayegh explained.

He noted that while the current Paterson cannabis ordinance only allows three cannabis dispensaries, the Council is in the process of expanding to allow a total of six.

“We’re open for business,” Sayegh declared.

Jersey City has had a more open and elaborate approval process that has been in place since last spring.

Limbo

Royal Roll and Buzzed Buds had not heard anything for more than three months.

“They took my money, and we haven’t heard anything,” De Los Santos declared. “We have been to City Hall on several occasions, sent several emails, have had many calls.”

He sent emails to Sayegh and had not heard back. So, he reached out to the City Council.

They said to email Economic Development Director Mike Powell.

“He said he wasn’t aware of the application,” De Los Santos said.

They have now lost the property and are looking for a new building.

“When we couldn’t meet their timeframe, they decided to move forward with other people,” he explained.

The investment group was unwilling to back him if he did not secure town approval.

Progress for Royal Roll and Buzzed Buds

Last night De Los Santos made progress while attending the City Council meeting.

Serial cannabis entrepreneur Carlos Bruno of Urban Leaf has been in touch with City Hall to secure a dispensary. He explained to Heady NJ that last night, the Council passed the ordinance allowing six Paterson cannabis dispensaries and expanding the Green Zone by eliminating the distance barriers from homes.

CB said he already had a meeting with the Council that went well.

The expanded Paterson cannabis ordinance passed on first reading. It still needs to pass again on second reading at the Council’s August meeting.

In addition, three cannabis companies got resolutions. They were Thriv 3 LLC, Blue Moon Lounge LLC, and Blaze Green.

Prior to yesterday, there haven’t been any Paterson cannabis dispensaries approved since GTI Rise was Oked for recreational adult use cannabis sales. The Council also previously approved two cultivators and a manufacturer.

Bruno noted he is confident he will receive a resolution for his Urban Leaf cannabis dispensary at the next meeting.

De Los Santos had a good night, too, despite the council meeting ending at 2 in the morning.

“I was able to get valuable information from the Council and Mike Powell. They have added an additional three licenses to the ordinance. I will be on the next agenda for approval,” he declared.

“My financing team is fully on board with continuing. We do need a new location, and we have one that should be done with the remaining paperwork by the end of the week,” De Los Santos added.

As a Hispanic entrepreneur who qualifies as a Social Equity applicant, he has the Goldilocks company many advocates and members of the New Jersey cannabis community want to see open.

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