Ascend plans recreational pot sales Tuesday — without Montclair’s OK
KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTLCAIR LOCAL
Update, Tuesday, 9 a.m.: Montclair has made an application for businesses to sell recreational marijuana available on its website.
Ascend of Montclair plans to open for recreational marijuana sales beginning Tuesday, June 7, despite not having yet filled out a township application to do so, and therefore without township approval.
The application was expected to be available on Monday, June 6. As of 9 p.m. that evening, it still hadn't been posted, but went up on the township's site sometime late that night or early Tuesday morning.
The township was notified of Ascend’s intentions to begin recreational sales this week in a May 27 letter from its attorney, Caitlin Fleishman, Ascend’s director of public affairs, said.
But Township Interim Attorney Paul Burr said that as of June 6, the Township has not received a completed application and associated filing fees from Ascend.
“Without an application that is received, reviewed and deemed complete, Ascend will not have the legal authority to begin selling recreational adult-use cannabis in the Township,” Burr said.
At 8:30 p.m. on Monday. Fleishman said Ascend still planned to open up to recreational sales at 10 a.m. on Tuesday in Montclair. Burr didn’t say how Montclair officials would respond if that happened.
“A decade ago, Montclair was at the forefront of the state’s new medical cannabis industry, but now the Township is dragging its feet on adult use — despite residents overwhelmingly voting to legalize recreational cannabis in 2020,” Fleishman told Montclair Local Monday evening. “Montclair is clearly making up their approval ‘process’ as they go, leading to layers of red tape so thick they could suffocate businesses. To date, Ascend has received two resolutions of support from the township, we’ve been approved by state regulators, and we’ve submitted a complete application as required by law. We’ve followed all of the steps laid out by the township, but they keep moving the goalposts.”
While the township hadn't at that point made any such application available, “we believe we have completed all that is necessary for our approval,” Fleishman told Montclair Local.
On May 17, the Montclair Township Council granted Ascend a conditional license to expand its alternative treatment center — the formal term used for medical marijuana dispensaries — to recreational sales. That followed a May 3 “resolution of support” from the council the dispensary needed to pursue a state approval for recreational sales. On May 24, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission issued Ascend of Montclair the expanded license, permitting recreational sales alongside its medical sales at its facility on Bloomfield Avenue.
Fleishman said that Ascend “has been waiting for an application since August 2021,” when the township first passed an ordinance regulating the sale of recreational marijuana within Montclair’s borders.
“As a result [of the delays], the township has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax revenue, Montclair residents have had to travel to purchase adult-use cannabis, and we’ve had to halt construction plans [to expand next door to the existing medical sales operation] ,” Fleishman said. “As Montclair’s only existing cannabis business, we are excited to provide high-quality products for customers in the township and surrounding area — but we need local government to be a partner, not an obstacle.”
The May 17 resolution granting Ascend the conditional license states it would be deemed a permanent license once requirements of four sections of the Montclair’s cannabis ordinance are met, and the license is approved by the township manager.
Those sections list several requirements, including that a business submit proof of state approval; have a valid lease on the property; conform with zoning regulations; comply with affirmative action, anti-discrimination and fair employment practice laws; have up to date audits; have no violations over a five-year period; and meet odor control and safety measures.
All of the required documentation was submitted to the township on May 27, Fleishman said.
A check for fees of $15,000 for retailer registration and $15,000 for annual registration would be dropped off at town hall Monday night, Fleishman said.
Although Fleishman said Ascend believed it had met all requirements to expand to recreational sales, one section of Montclair’s cannabis law, cited in the May 17 resolution requires that “persons wishing to obtain a municipal cannabis license shall file a license application with the Township Council, on a standardized form established by the Township Council and available in the office of the Township Clerk.”
Burr said that the mayor and council had granted Ascend the conditional Class 5/Category A cannabis retail license to operate a retail establishment “subject to [state approval] and submission of a completed application and associated fees to the Township of Montclair.”
Councilman Peter Yacobellis told Montclair Local on May 17 that the application would be available to all applicants Monday June 6. But on Monday afternoon, it was still being reviewed by the township manager, Communications Director Katya Wowk said. It then had to go to the clerk for posting to the website, she added.
On June 6 at around 8:45 p.m., Fleishman said, the township finally responded to the May 27 email from Ascend’s attorney to Burr, and to an email sent Monday from Fleishman to Mayor Sean Spiller and Burr about opening up sales on Tuesday.
She said that Burr told Ascend it would be unlawful for Ascend to open up to recreational sales on Tuesday.
As of 6 p.m. 19 appointments for recitational sales at the Montclair location had been booked through Ascend’s website, Fleishman said.
In Montclair, medical-only hours at Ascend’s Bloomfield Avenue location are Saturday and Sunday from 8 to 9 a.m., and Monday through Friday from 8 to 10 a.m. However, medical users can also come to the dispensary during any other hours of operation.
Ascend’s busiest times are 12 to 2 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m., Fleishman said.
“If someone walks up [seeking recreational sales] and we have appointment availability, we will accept them to fill that availability,” she said.
Ascend expanded its Rochelle Park facility to recreational sales on April 21, the first day recreational sales were permitted in New Jersey. Rochelle Park had passed a resolution in the winter stating its support, which is a requirement of state approval. The state approved Ascend’s Rochelle Park license earlier in April.
Montclair was the first town to host a medical marijuana facility in the state, opening up in 2012 as the Greenleaf Compassion Center. Ascend took over the facility in 2021.
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