Ascend sets its sights on pot sales to start in August. (Kate Albright/For Montclair Local)
Ascend sets its sights on pot sales to start in August.
(Kate Albright/For Montclair Local)

After waiting two months for final approval to conduct recreational sales at its medical marijuana dispensary in Montclair, an Ascend attorney says the company will sue the township if it does not approve its application without further delay.

The letter, written on July 26, just hours after the Planning Board memorialized its approval of a conditional use permit for recreational sales and allowing Ascend to expand its dispensary to three other storefronts on Bloomfield Avenue, states that Ascend has not heard from the township since July 14. With the Planning Board’s action, Ascend officials are now pushing for final approval of its application.

“Ascend desires to continue to work collaboratively with the township to commence adult-use cannabis sales by the first weekend of August. However, please keep in mind that Ascend is a publicly traded company with duties to its shareholders and other stakeholders, all of whom rightfully expect that Ascend will commence adult-use cannabis sales in Montclair imminently. 

“If Ascend’s license is not issued despite its satisfaction of all conditions precedent, Ascend will have no choice but to pursue all available options, including but not limited to public engagement and legal action,” Ascend’s general counsel, Douglas Fischer, wrote to interim Township Attorney Paul Burr.

At the July 25 Planning Board meeting, when members memorialized the approval for Ascend’s conditional use permit to expand to recreational sales and use the three neighboring storefronts, planner Janice Talley noted that the move is not the final approval for Ascend to “begin recreational sales tomorrow.” The final decision lies with the township, she said.

Caitlin Fleishman, Ascend’s director of public affairs, said on Tuesday, “We are excited to have received Planning Board approval, which was our last step in satisfying Montclair’s local application. Ascend looks forward to beginning adult use sales imminently and contributing significant tax dollars to the township. Any further delay will result in a loss of tax revenue, which will be borne by the Montclair residents, who overwhelmingly support this approval.” 

Rochelle Park, where Ascend expanded to recreational use on April 21, anticipates receiving over $1 million in tax revenue in the first year of adult-use cannabis sales there, Fischer said.

On May 3, the council adopted a resolution of support of Ascend’s application to amend its existing
license to permit it to also sell recreational cannabis at its current location, a requirement in securing New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission approval. 

In addition the council, on May 17, approved another resolution, issuing Ascend a conditional adult-use cannabis license. The resolution states that the conditional license will be deemed permanent and become effective once a completed application is submitted, fees are paid, zoning regulations are met and the township manager has given approval. 

On May 24, within three weeks of Ascend submitting its application to the state, it garnered Cannabis Regulatory Commission approval.

Fees of $15,000 for retailer registration and $15,000 for annual registration were paid to the municipality on June 6, Fleishman said.

However, on June 7, prior to submitting its application, Ascend opened up for recreational sales for a period of just over three hours.

It shut down the sales after Burr notified Ascend it would be in violation due to an incomplete application, and that recreational sales would need a pending site plan approval from the Planning Board, Fleishman told Montclair Local that day. 

She said at the time that when Ascend opened up for recreational sales, company officials believed they had completed “all that is necessary for our approval.” But Burr told Montclair Local the night of June 6 that Ascend did not have the legal authority to sell recreational pot without a completed application. After notification from the township, Fleishman said, Ascend officials saw how they had violated Montclair’s procedures. The company received no citations for violations, she said. 

The next day, June 7, Ascend submitted its application for a permanent adult-use cannabis license to the township. Two days later, Ascend received a deficiency notice requesting that it amend and supplement its application, which Ascend did the following day, according to Fischer. Another deficiency notice was issued five weeks later, on July 13, with Ascend responding with amendments on July 14, Fischer wrote to Burr. 

Talley, who sets the agenda, also postponed until July 25 the Planning Board’s vote on the resolution of support for Ascend’s application, originally expected to take place July 11. 

“Ascend looks forward to receiving its license without further delay and respectfully requests that the township manager issues the license so that Ascend may serve the Montclair community, which supports Ascend’s ability to sell cannabis for adult use,” Fischer wrote in his letter to Burr.

At a June 21 council meeting, Ascend Montclair’s general manager, Louis Cohen, apologized for opening up to recreational sales prior to receiving local approval to do so. 

Jaimie is an award-winning journalist and editor.