The NJ adult use cannabis dispensary Sugar Leaves wants to open in Rockaway Borough. But the town awarded multiple resolutions while only allowing two dispensaries.
They were always only planning to allow two NJ adult use cannabis dispensaries to open. Rockaway Boroough likely thought the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJ-CRC) would decide who would be allowed to open within their borders.
Sugar Leaves owner Usman Khawaja is a local Pakistani American seeking to open a New Jersey adult use cannabis dispensary in town. He has launched a petition to get the town to allow him to open.
Khawaja is seeking people to advocate that he be allowed to open at the next council meeting this Thursday, September 28th.
“I was the first one to get a license. The town is telling me you’re going to get it,” he said. “I don’t know what they were thinking. They took the money from all 5,6.”
Rockaway Brough Administrator/ Chief Financial Officer Patricia Reiche has running the local cannabis licensing process.
Sugar Leaves recently received their annual license necessary to open approval from the NJ-CRC since they had a location and the necessary town resolution. But with the town cap they cannot get the final paperwork from Rockaway Borough to open.
“Neither are minorities. One is an MSO (Multi-State Operator corporation),” Khawaja noted. “A millionaire came into town and they forgot about minority businesses.”
Rockway already has a dispensary open with the company Kind Kush.
Fighting for an NJ Adult Use Cannabis Dispensary
Khawaja has worked for nearly 3 years to open an NJ adult use cannabis dispensary. Initially, the town didn’t allow any.
“I advocated for it, I fought for it,” he explained. “I kept going back and forth with the town.
Sugar Leaves has been paying rent on their location in a coveted Green Zone spot where cannabis companies are allowed for 3 years.
“You know how hard it is to get in the zone? I got fucking blessed,” Khawaja exclaimed. “Now they won’t let me open up. That hurts to my core.”
He noted Sugar Leaves could donate 3 to 5 percent of their earnings to the town as a community giveback.
“I want to work with the town. We’re bringing people from this community. We’re hiring minorities,” Khawaja said.
Passionate About Cannabis & Sugar Leaves
He has been passionate about cannabis for years. In 2016 a car accident left him badly injured. Initially he tried legal medical pills to treat the pain.
“I developed anxiety. Here’s an anxiety pill. A month later I was on 5 different meds I never needed,” Khawaja noted.
Cannabis helped him heal.
He thought the name Sugar Leaves would stand out.
The original definition of Sugar Leaves is trimmed weed like “I got the sugar leaves.”*
Khawaja launched Sugar Leaves as a clothing brand first.
He has a background in sales and management. Khawaja was previously an assistant manager at cell phone stores. He came to United States when he was 12 when his family moved to Dover in Morris County from Pakistan.
“This is home. That’s why I’m fighting so hard,” Khawaja said.
Rockaway Borough and Dover have a combined school district so the two towns are closely linked he explained.
At 28 he’s a family guy with 2 kids.
“I’m at work every single day. I would love to be home with my kids,” Khawaja noted.
Running a CBD Store
While he was waiting to open an NJ adult use cannabis, Khawaja opened up a CBD store.
“The town loved me for that. I got the mayor to come in for the ribbon cutting when we opened up the CBD store,” Khawaja noted.
A lot of money that went into converting Sugar Leaves to a NJ adult use cannabis dispensary was generated from the store.
He has been selling Delta 8 and legal Delta 9 THC hemp-derived products and CBD.
“We don’t sell weed,” Khawaja declared.
He noted many smoke shops have been doing so.
But the CBD store sales can be hit or miss.
“Most come wanting actual weed,” Khawaja noted. “People don’t want to hear about that Delta stuff.”
Raising and Spending Money
“I spent over half a million trying to get a build out. I have money invested,” he noted.
Khawaja said he raised the money from smaller personal loans from friends and family.
“I put too much money into it: I can’t just move to another spot. I don’t have money to move. I’m running on my last fuckin dime,” he lamented.
Khawaja said the construction and conversion of his CBD store to a licensed New Jersey adult use recreational cannabis dispensary is almost complete.
“I’m 80 percent done with my build-out. I could open in less than a month,” he noted. “I don’t need millions of dollars to do it.”
Wary of Many Cannabis Investors
“The State is telling us you need money. But they want you to partner with investors. They’re leeches,” Khawaja exclaimed. “They want… everything from you.”
He is in a Catch-22.
“The investor wants the town to give me my last permit. The town wants me to show investors before they give me the license,” Khawaja lamented. “I don’t know how to move forward.”
“If I could get town approval, then I could be in a better position negotiating,” he noted. “They want me to be desperate to take these deals.”
“We want 50 percent of your company. I know a lot of suppliers. We would be able to get the inventory without paying upfront,” Khawaja recounted investors saying.
He explained investors are uninterested in Social Equity and giving back to the community. They want to take it over and make him a figurehead puppet.
Khawaja is fearful he could lose the company to investors. Some potential investors wanted 60 percent of the company.
He tried to enter the NJ-EDA’s grant program for cannabis companies. But their initial pilot program filled up quickly.
“As a minority, what are we supposed to do? The State isn’t helping. The towns are not helping,” Khawaja said. “Minorities don’t have the money to open up.”
His story is not unique. Khawaja is not the only one telling horror stories about potential licensed New Jersey cannabis business investors.
Determined to Move Forward
Khawaja is unhappy that for all the great rhetoric that went into passing New Jersey cannabis legalization, the results seem very different.
“They’re supposed to be helping minorities out,” he declared.
Despite the time and the great difficulty, he has made great progress jumping over the hurdles of the New Jersey cannabis industry.
“It’s not easy. I have a passion for it. That’s the only reason I stuck along,” Khawaja noted.
“This is what I was meant to do with my life. It’s truly what I believe. I gotta just keep moving forward. This is the fight of our lives,” he added. “Either I gotta sue the town, or I gotta sue the State.”