Montclair officials have issued a statement outright calling the recreational marijuana sales that happened briefly at the Ascend dispensary this week “illegal.”

“Since Ascend did not have the appropriate permits to sell adult-use cannabis, any such sales on June 7 were illegal. … To be clear, Ascend is not permitted by law to sell adult-use cannabis unless and until its license application is deemed complete and is approved and unless and until it receives all required zoning approvals,” the statement sent to media on June 8 says.

Montclair interim Township Attorney Paul Burr had already told Montclair Local on Monday evening — just half a day before Ascend temporarily moved forward with recreational sales —  that Ascend didn’t have the legal authority to do so. And Ascend officials acknowledged being told the same by Montclair Monday and Tuesday — despite their own assessment that they’d met all the requirements to move forward. 

The statement issued Wednesday uses starker, stronger language to make the same point.

Montclair’s cannabis ordinance, passed last summer, requires a recreational marijuana business to meet several requirements. Among them: the business must complete and get approval of “a standardized form established by the Township Council and available in the office of the Township Clerk.”

Township officials said they expected to finally make such an application available for the first time Monday, but no application was posted to the township’s website until, 7:46 p.m., after business hours. Ascend officials say they ultimately submitted a copy at 2 p.m. on June 7.

But prior to that — and accusing the township of “dragging its feet” on the process — Ascend announced plans on Monday to start recreational sales the next day, and began taking reservations on its website. 

Ascend's attorney had notified the township on May 27 and again on June 6 that the business intended to open for recreational sales this week, representatives of the company said.

Ascend started those sales Tuesday morning at about 10 a.m., but stopped them at about 1:15. Ascend officials had been notified that “township officials may be dispatched to their facility,” according to the township’s media release.

On Monday night, Ascend dropped off a check at the Montclair municipal building for fees of $15,000 for retailer registration and $15,000 for annual registration, Caitlin Fleishman, Ascend’s director of public affairs, said. Weeks earlier, 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, which it ultimately got.

The township also requires that a cannabis retail business apply for a conditional use permit to be heard by the planning board. 

Ascend submitted an application to the planning board for a conditional use permit on June 6, according to township officials. That application is expected to be heard at the June 20 or July 11 planning board meeting, according to the township statement.

But currently, officials say, Ascend’s application for a license to sell adult-use cannabis and Ascend’s application for a conditional use permit remain outstanding.

“A complete and approved license application and an approved conditional use permit are required for the sale of adult-use cannabis. Regardless that these legal requirements were not met, Ascend commenced selling adult-use cannabis on the morning of Tuesday, June 7, 2022. This action was illegal,” the statement reads.

A review of Ascend’s license application by township staff began the afternoon of Tuesday, June 7, but needs further review, the statement reads. 

Fleishman said Ascend halted recreational sales when 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. She said Ascend's own attorney was concerned that the township could send code enforcement and police. The business wanted to abide by the law, she said.

On May 24, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission issued Ascend of Montclair an expanded state license, permitting recreational sales alongside its medical sales at its facility on Bloomfield Avenue. Ascend sent Montclair documentation and a note saying it was putting a check for fees in the mail in its May 27 correspondence.

When Ascend opened up for recreational sales they believed they had completed “all that is necessary for our approval,” Fleishman told Montclair Local at the time. 

On Wednesday, she said that Ascend officials now see that they had violated Montclair’s procedures. Ascend received no citations for violations, she said. 

Under Montclair’s cannabis law, a condition of the township granting a license is that the company or facility can't have any violations prior the past five years. If Ascend had received a citation on Tuesday, its local license application could have been affected.

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