The Montclair Township Council has given a “resolution of support” to medical marijuana dispensary Ascend to expand into recreational sales, a measure needed to get a state license.

On Tuesday, May 3, the council voted on the resolution, but will still require the business to file an application for a local approval after it receives its licensing from the state. 

The council also introduced an ordinance that would amend its existing marijuana license law to allow three dispensaries, instead of the two specified when the council first passed the law last August

Councilman David Cummings was the sole member of the governing body to vote against both ordinance and resolution. He’d also voted against the original ordinance, along with Deputy Mayor Bill Hurlock, saying it was rushed and he wanted more direction from the state at the time. 

“You know, it seems like we’re rushing again, to satisfy public opinion, and newspaper articles, as opposed to really taking our time and looking thoroughly through all of this,” Cummings said at Tuesday night’s council meeting. “So I just want to make sure that that’s on the record.”

Over the winter, Ascend received approval for recreational marijuana business operations from Rochelle Park and Franklin, where it has a dispensary and cultivation facility, respectively. It received a state approval to expand those operations on April 14, when the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission signed off on letting several dispensaries throughout the state move into recreational pot. The Rochelle Park dispensary opened April 21, the first day of recreational sales in New Jersey. 

But Ascend’s application for its Montclair location with the Cannabis Regulatory Commission was being held up as it awaited township approval, which it did on May 3.

The local application process is not required per state guidelines but some municipalities chose to include them in their ordinances and had operators complete them before the launch of the market. Rochelle Park did have us complete a straightforward application, where Franklin did not have any local application requirements,” Caitlin Fleishman, Ascend’s director of public affairs, said.

In 2012, Montclair was the first municipality in New Jersey to host a medical dispensary — the then-Greenleaf Compassion Center, which reopened under new ownership as Ascend in 2021. Montclair was also one of the first municipalities last summer to adopt a framework allowing for recreational dispensaries after the state legalized marijuana in 2021. But the township, which had requested that Ascend go through its local application process, hasn’t yet come up with an application that businesses can submit. 

Now that Montclair has passed the resolution of support, Ascend’s application with the state will be deemed complete and can enter the substantive review process. Ascend representatives hope that, if their application is favorably reviewed, it will be placed on the regulatory commission’s May 24 meeting for a vote. 

The council’s new amendments to its cannabis ordinance would let it approve applications at its “discretion” and remove a scoring rubric for applications.

“As long as the applicant meets the criteria within the ordinance, the council can approve it,” Councilman Peter Yacobellis, who penned the changes with Councilwoman Robin Schlager and Mayor Sean Spiller, told Montclair Local.

Factors considered by the council and stated in the ordinance include the business’s ties to the community and whether at least one shareholder has lived in or had a business in Montclair for at least five years. The council would also consider a business’s commitment to provide benefits to the community, and its demonstrated commitment to diversity in its ownership and hiring practices.

Councilman Bob Russo, in a message to Montclair Local, had supported Greenleaf, and called it a “logical and good business and financial decision” to let its successor, Ascend, move into adult-use recreational sales. But he said he wanted to make sure that all applicants are treated fairly, and that any recreational sales businesses have diverse hiring and fair labor practices, "with collective bargaining agreements and labor peace agreements at each facility operating in Montclair."  

He also provided information he'd received about Ascend's unionization through the Cannabis Engineers Extractors and Distributors, and its labor peace agreements with that group and at each of its facilities.

 

“We are losing tax revenue to Bloomfield, where the Rise dispensary has been open for two  weeks,” he added. 

Montclair would collect a 2% sales tax on recreational marijuana sold in the township. 

Another change under the ordinance introduced Tuesday would raise the fees from $5,000 to $10,000 for initial application licenses and renewals. The increase will make Montclair competitive with other towns’ fees, Spiller said. 

Before it could go into effect, the ordinance would need a second reading and vote, which can’t be scheduled until the June 14 Township Council meeting due to a public notice time requirement of 20 days. At that meeting, the council is also expected to pass a resolution to let the ordinance take effect immediately, instead of after the 20 days normally required by law, Yacobellis said. 

He said that the application would then be available for Ascend, and all interested applicants. 

But at the council meeting, questions concerning exactly when the application could be released were not answered, with Township Manager Timothy Stafford saying it could be the end of June and interim Township Attorney Paul Burr saying he wasn’t sure if the council had to vote to approve the overall application. 

Prior to the meeting, Fleishman told Montclair Local Ascend officials were “thrilled” by the progress.

“We are eager to launch the adult use market at our Montclair location and serve the customers and patients who overwhelmingly voted for the legalization of adult use cannabis in the Garden State,” Fleishman said.

Ascend is ready to open for adult-use customers in Montclair, she said, adding that it had a smooth launch in Rochelle Park in April and expects the same in Montclair.

Along with the three recreational marijuana retailers, Montclair will allow one of each for a cannabis delivery service, cannabis wholesaler, cannabis distributor, cannabis manufacturer and cannabis cultivator. 

Spiller said the township will set up a subcommittee to review future cannabis applications. 

— Talia Wiener contributed
to this report.