The competitive and arbitrary nature of the Morristown Cannabis adult-use dispensary application process has raised several questions.
Uma Flowers, a cannabis company based in Pepperell, MA, owned by Indian American women, won council approval to operate a Morristown cannabis dispensary in Morris County. It was a process like New Jersey’s disastrous medical license process in use from 2018 to 2021 process with arbitrary standards set by different reviewers.
Donna Mastrantonio of Tangerine Tree LLC had her Morristown cannabis dispensary application for a micro license denied and feels the process was shady and unfair.
“They absolutely knew who was going to be in. The RFP did not reflect fairness. It was geared specifically for that particular entity,” she said.
“The scoring process was a complete farce,” she said. “They had no intention of allowing any of us in. They knew who was applying and knew who they wanted. For example, one of the criteria had to do with clinical human research. This is a question that is used for pharma and would not apply to any of us, except Uma Flowers who operates a medical dispensary in Massachusetts and one of the owners is a pharmacist by trade. I am going to be asking for a refund of my application fee. If Morristown wanted an experienced MSO from out-of-state, they should have at least allowed unlimited micro license applicants.”
Attorney Mollie Hartman Lustig of the firm McLaughlin & Stern, LP said her client Alta Amfi New Jersey LLC has four owners; a male Pennsylvania medical cannabis dispensary owner and three local women business owners who worked with the mayor’s health campaign.
“You literally can’t get any better,” she said.
Despite all their merit, they came in third.
Morristown took a long time to pass an ordinance. The Morristown cannabis process established has very high barriers to entry since they only allowed companies to apply for one medical cannabis dispensary license and one adult-use dispensary license. For a while, they would not tell people when the application process would begin.
They announced the process and gave applicants two weeks to submit a heavy load of documents that only an operating dispensary would have already prepared.
Mastrantonio noted she hastily worked with attorney Duncan Delano to get the Morristown cannabis dispensary application in on time.
Morristown Cannabis Process and Barriers to Entry
While the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) at the state level seems committed to an adult-use cannabis market with lower barriers to entry than the state’s medical cannabis market, towns are keeping them up.
“They should have given them guidelines, Mastrantonio said about the NJCRC. “These municipalities are doing whatever they wanted, and they’re taking advantage of people.”
The Morristown cannabis process was set up like New Jersey’s 2018 and 2019 Requests for Application (RFA) which valued experience in the cannabis industry the most.
Lustig said she found significant discrepancies after reviewing the scoring sheets.
The reviewers were Business Administrator Jillian Barrick, Chief of Police Darnell Richardson, Zoning Officer Bob Iannaccone, Planner Phillip Abramson, and town attorney David Mincello, a partner in NJ Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin’s law firm.
“The zoning official Abramson gave zero points on almost everything versus the full 60 points we received from other reviewers on the same criteria. How could there be a discrepancy to such a great extent?” Mastrantonio asked.
“They arbitrarily gave points. It was so badly done,” she said. “I received points for things I should not have gotten points for and vice versa.”
“Local Ties” was a category worth five points and included proof of ownership or control of a property for the last five years in town.
“It’s not a subjective category,” Lustig said.
Yet she noted there were discrepant scores. Abramson scored Uma as a 0 on proof of residency, while Barrick gave Alta Amfi and Iannaccone both gave them 4/5.
“It doesn’t make any sense anymore. The target is constantly being moved,” Lustig said. “You shouldn’t have subjective scores in objective categories, and you shouldn’t have such wide discrepancies.”
“I don’t know how somebody like me who’s getting a micro license could go up against an MSO,” Mastrantonio lamented. “There was only one MSO in the group. There was only one person that could win.”
She lamented the stringent decision appeals process outlined in a letter by Minchello, where applicants must go before the council and state their case but cannot ask any questions at all. Morristown has also denied appellants to request discovery.
“It doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem like the end of the story,” Lustig said. “They’re arbitrary and capricious decisions.”
She noted that gives them a legal basis to sue.
However, it might be costly to fight in the courts.
Morristown is among the wealthy towns that are Impact Zones eligible for New Jersey adult-use cannabis tax revenue.
These issues are concurrent with Mayor Tim Dougherty’s unethical practices and political corruption charges against his wife Mary she pled guilty to related to her County Commissioner campaign last December.
Requests for comment from Morristown officials were not answered by the time of publication.
Alta Amfi and other operators are scheduled for presentations regarding their appeals before the governing body on June 29 at 7:30 pm.