Ascend of Montclair has received Planning Board approval to begin recreational marijuana sales — expanding beyond the dispensary’s current medical-only business — but it still has some hurdles to clear before those sales can begin. 

The conditional use variance approved by the board on Monday, June 20, will still have to be memorialized through a resolution at the board’s next meeting, on July 11. And although the Township Council passed a resolution on May 17 giving Ascend a conditional license for recreational retail sales, an application filed with the municipality on June 7 still needs approval from the township manager.

Ascend’s attorney, Jason Tuval, appeared before the Planning Board Monday to say the company’s application for a conditional use permit for recreational marijuana sales met four conditions set by an ordinance the Montclair Township Council passed last year, creating the framework for recreational sales in town: The storefront is located on Bloomfield Avenue, Ascend is not a home-based occupation, it does not sell out of a vehicle, and it is not located within 250 of a registered child care facility or school.

Ascend plans to extend from 395 Bloomfield Ave. to three other storefronts, taking up all of the building space that continues to 399 Bloomfield Ave., according to its application.

Tuval told the board that the expansion will take place in phases, with the recreational sales rolling out in the current space. Since the physical expansion will need Historic Preservation Commission approval and building permits, the actual buildout could take “at least a few months,” he said.

He did not offer a date on when recreational sales would begin in the current space.

Montclair Local sent Ascend’s director of public affairs, Caitlin Fleishman, a message Tuesday, June 21, asking for an update on when she thought retail sales could begin. She hadn’t yet replied by the paper’s print deadline that evening.

Ascend’s regional vice president, Mike Connelly, told the Planning Board that Ascend will begin recreational sales by appointment only. Medical marijuana users are not required to make appointments for service at Ascend. 

The business currently employs 45 people, with eight to 15 per shift, Connelly said. That figure would increase to 75 to 90 employees, with 15 to 35 employees on each shift, once the buildout is complete, he said.

Hours will remain the same — from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, with 14 hours dedicated to medical patients only, Connelly said. The current delivery schedule to the facility on three days a week before 10 a.m. will remain the same, he said.

Hurdles behind and ahead

At a June 21 Township Council meeting, Ascend Montclair’s general manager, Louis Cohen, apologized for an incident earlier this month, when the dispensary opened up to recreational sales prior to receiving local approvals to do so. 

On May 3, Ascend had received a “resolution of support” from the Township Council, a requirement for its separate state license approval, which it ultimately received on May 24.

Ascend then announced on June 6 that it would open up for recreational retail appointments the next day, accusing the township of “dragging its feet” on its approval process to that point. No application for recreational sales had been made available to businesses until that evening, even though township officials had said previously they expected to release the application that day. Township officials blamed an issue with their website’s content management system for the delay extending to after work hours. 

Then, on June 7 — prior to submitting its application but just hours after dropping off a check at the Montclair municipal building for fees of $15,000 for retailer registration and $15,000 for annual registration — Ascend opened up for recreational sales for a period of just over three hours.

That ended after interim Township Attorney Paul 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. 

When Ascend opened up for recreational sales, company officials believed they had completed “all that is necessary for our approval,” Fleishman said at the time — though Burr had already told Montclair Local the night of June 6 that Ascend “will not have the legal
authority” to sell recreational pot without a completed application. And Mayor Sean Spiller said at the June 21 council meeting that the township attorney had told Ascend the same on June 6.

After notification from the township, Fleishman said, Ascend officials saw how they had violated Montclair’s procedures. Ascend received no citations for violations, she said. 

“Ascend hopes to regain any trust lost to its commitment here ... and would like to turn a new page with this partnership,” Cohen told the council. 

A review of Ascend’s license application by township staff began the afternoon of Tuesday, June 7, but needs further review, a June 8 statement from the township said. Montclair Local sent Burr an email on Tuesday, June 21, seeking information on the status of Ascend’s application, but hadn’t received a reply by its print deadline that night.

But at the meeting, Spiller said that in reviewing Acend’s application, the township would be looking to see what “social benefits” Ascend has and will be offering the township, “among other things.” 

Councilman Peter Yacobellis, who penned the marijuanna ordinance that the Township Council passed last summer, told Montclair Local he believed that with the Planning Board approval in place, the manager could finalize the application. He said he did not think it would need to go back to the Township Council.

Journalism like Montclair Local's is only possible because of the continued support of our members. Sustaining memberships of $10 a month or more entitle you to our print edition, and help provide us with the stable, predictable financial base that helps us plan to bring you important journalism for years to come. If you value this article or others from Montclair Local, consider becoming a sustaining member; sign up with the form below.