Charles Benson and Candice Johnson are young entrepreneurs running Jersey Shore Extracts seeking a conditional micro adult-use cannabis dispensary license in Ocean County.
They have participated in the industry for years and are longtime advocates. Benson and Johnson started a business from scratch while raising three kids. They applied after the adult-use cannabis dispensary application portal opened.
Since Johnson is the majority 51 percent owner, they qualify as a Woman-owned business.
Location Location Location
“The towns aren’t really allowing the emergence of this market to take place,” Benson said.
Finding a location remains the hardest part for Jersey Shore Extracts.
“We’re just waiting on Lakehurst. They want to interview somewhere around 15 different applications for two retail applications, which is a little disheartening,” said Benson.
“We were the first to reach out to the landlord. It seems like we’re getting placed on the back burner right now. It’s hard. Down here in Ocean County, we only have those two towns, South Toms River and Lakehurst,” he added.
Waretown, which is also in Ocean County, might be the third.
Initially, the landlord was not sure they could operate an adult-use cannabis dispensary in their desired location, and a had to check it. When he came back, there were complications.
“Let me see who else is interested,” she recalled him saying. “It’s a bidding game at this point.”
There are 10 or 15 companies seeking to do business in two locations in Lakehurst.
“There’s talk of the township meeting each potential tenant,” Johnson said. “It does seem weird the landlord and town are in cahoots to find the ideal tenant. That’s not how it normally works.”
He said two of the three locations in South Toms River are only allowed to sell medical cannabis. In general the southern part of New Jersey is adopting cannabis laws more slowly than in the northern part of the state.
“The landlords really don’t care a whole lot about that and who they think will be the most successful, which will always be the ATCs or and whatnot,” Johnson said.
Both Benson and Johnson grew up in Ocean County and believe it would probably be one of the better places to be, considering there are no legal dispensaries there currently.
That is due to its conservative nature since the towns that like cannabis are progressive or business-oriented or both.
“It’s not out of the realm of possibilities to look for a better location, but we would like to do it here,” Benson said.
Johnson said it has become a waiting game.
“It’s been pretty weird from the start,” she added.
Jumping Through Hoops
Benson said applying for a legal adult-use cannabis license has been expensive.
“More than we were told,” Johnson said. “It was a lot of headache to go through.”
Their lawyer Duncan Delano handled the majority of the process, Johnson noted.
She explained part of the problem was going through old records of past or previous arrests to qualify as a Social Equity candidate.
“Not exactly knowing how to fill out all the paperwork wasn’t great either,” Johnson said.
Their lawyer said they have the highest priority.
“We stand a pretty good chance,” Benson said.
“We’ve paid very close attention to the way the State wants it done and tried to emulate it,” Johnson said. “It’s a fraught process.”
“Hopefully it will lighten up in the future,” Benson said. “It’s a weird way to set an industry. It’s not a fair industry for everyone.”
“You could work for this all your life and still need approval from somebody else. This isn’t like a regular business,” Johnson said.
Benson initially believed there was a lot of stress on the Social Equity by the State and fixing the injustices caused by the War on Drugs.
Given that the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) has prioritized people with one cannabis felony or two misdemeanors as the top people to get a license, they have a shot.
“It seems they’re turning their back on it right now and letting the big guys in,” he lamented.
“More and more and time passes, that’s not what they really have in mind,” Johnson said.