Ascend still needs multiple approvals before it can legally move ahead with recreational marijuana sales, township officials say — which leaves open the question of when such sales could come to Montclair. 

The medical marijuana dispensary on Bloomfield Avenue not only needs a township-approved  license, it also needs a conditional use permit to be issued by the Planning Board in order to expand its space for recreational sales into neighboring storefronts, township officials say. The dispensary has neither.

Montclair officials have also issued a statement outright calling the recreational marijuana sales that happened briefly on June 7 at the Ascend dispensary “illegal.”

Ascend opened for recreational sales for about three hours that day before being warned that “township officials may be dispatched to their facility,” according to a township media release issued the next day. After opening sales for recreational marijuana at 10 a.m., Ascend officials said they shut down sales around 1:15 p.m. 

“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 the evening of Monday, June 6  — 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, June 8, uses starker, stronger language to make the same point.

Ascend submitted an application to the Planning Board for a conditional use permit on June 6, but that won’t be heard until the June 20 Planning Board meeting. Even if the matter is decided in a single hearing, applications aren’t typically formally memorialized at the same meetings that their hearings take place. The board next meets after that on July 11.

That Planning Board application includes physical expansion of the existing alternative treatment center — the term used for medical dispensaries — to include retail cannabis sales using the entire building at 395-399 Bloomfield Avenue. The new, expanded facility would contain a retail sales area, vaults for storage, a waiting room for alternative treatment center patients and offices. 

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, June 6, but no application was posted to the township’s website until 7:46 p.m., after business hours. Ascend officials say they 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 June 6 to start recreational sales the next day, and began taking reservations on its website. 

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

On the evening of June 6, 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 Township Council granted Ascend a conditional license to expand its alternative treatment center 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.

But currently, officials say, Ascend’s application for a license to sell adult-use cannabis and its 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 township’s statement from last week reads.

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

Fleishman said the business 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 attorney was concerned that the township could send code enforcement and police. The business wanted to abide by the law, she said.

Lt. Terence Turner said that Montclair police were not dispatched to Ascend on June 7.

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, the company believed it had completed “all that is necessary for our approval,” Fleishman told Montclair Local at the time. 

On June 8, the day after the brief stint of recreational sales, she said that Ascend officials saw 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 the past five years. If Ascend had received a citation on Tuesday, June 7, its local license application could have been affected.
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