Montclair Council OKs License for Recreational Marijuana
A year of wrangling between Montclair and Ascend, the company seeking to become the town’s first licensed seller of recreational marijuana, ended Tuesday night when the Township Council approved Ascend’s application. As soon as this Friday, the small shop with the abstract blue leaf logo on Bloomfield Avenue can expand its business from a medical marijuana dispensary and welcome a new clientele.
The council’s 5-1 vote also frees Ascend to enlarge the 1,422-square-foot space into two additional storefronts and gives the company its third outlet in the state. In April, Ascend, which is publicly traded, expanded sales at its Rochelle Park shop to include both recreational and medical use, and a week ago it added a Fort Lee store that for now sells only for medical reasons.
The awarding of the expanded license by the council feels like something of a truce, following months of skirmishing that included bureaucratic snags and a three-hour blip in June when Ascend angered town officials by prematurely beginning recreational sales. The company later apologized, saying it was a misunderstanding.
Impatient over the slow, winding path toward a vote — particularly after the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission granted Ascend an expanded license in May — the company threatened Montclair with a lawsuit last month. And most recently, it stepped up its campaign by essentially taking the issue to the people.
An advertisement with news outlets, including Montclair Local, provided email links to Mayor Sean Spiller and the entire council, entreating residents to let officials know they were tired of the delay. The ads, arguing that Montclair was losing out on significant tax revenue, barely caused a ripple. Only a handful of emails seemed to have been received by council members.
Tuesday night’s vote came one year after an ordinance passed that permits the sale of recreational marijuana in Montclair. The town later capped at three the number of businesses that can sell marijuana for recreational use in the community. With an Aug. 31 deadline for license applications, Councilman Peter Yacobellis said that interest was vigorous.
After Ascend’s application was approved, Yacobellis said a few details still needed to fall into place, including the payment of a license fee. But he released a statement that both lauded the council’s action and underscored the complexities and debate that led to the vote.
“For over a year we've been on a journey to figure out how to establish adult recreational cannabis as a marketplace in Montclair and do it responsibly,” he said. “I think it's better to get things right than to do things fast.”
While acknowledging that the process has “taken a while and been frustrating to some,” he added, “I'll be happy when Ascend opens as the first official recreational license holder for Montclair, that residents will have this option downtown and that we can begin to realize some new tax revenue, too.”
For Ascend, the victory builds on its footprint in the burgeoning marijuana industry, as more states legalize the sale of marijuana for both medicinal and recreational use. The company now has 22 stores across five states, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois and Michigan.
An Ascend representative said on Tuesday that business at its Rochelle Park location had increased exponentially since it expanded to include recreational sales in April. Figures from June of last year showed an average of 1,800 transactions a month, with that number going up to over 40,000 transactions a month this past June, the representative said.
Following the vote, Ascend released a statement that tried to put the rancor behind, saying the company wanted to build a partnership with the town and bring “more union-paying jobs and tax dollars to the community.”
Among council members who were present, only Fourth Ward Councilman David Cummings voted against granting Ascend a license, maintaining the stance he adopted as the saga unfolded.