When Andrew Marshall appeared before the Montclair Planning Board on Monday night, Feb. 6, as part of the intricate process of gaining a license to open a cannabis-growing business, he had a rooting squad pulling for him from behind. 

Over his right shoulder, his father, Scott, was stationed in the second row of the gallery in the Municipal Building chamber. Potential business neighbors near the proposed site watched from the gallery and later spoke to the board to vouch for him.

By the end of the night, Marshall was able to celebrate with them a pivotal moment in his effort to become the single licensed cannabis grower in Montclair. After questioning him on everything, including noise, odor control, lighting, irrigation equipment and security measures, the board granted his company, Genuine Grow, a conditional use permit. 

The board has given approval to companies applying for retail licenses, but Genuine Grow became the first cannabis cultivator to come before the board and receive its go-ahead. He has competition for the town’s single available cultivation license from one other company.

Marshall already has a conditional license from the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission, and his next hurdle will be attaining a resolution of support from the Township Council. If that happens, he would have one additional bit of bureaucracy to contend with. He would need to return to the state level with those two certifications in order to have the conditional license converted to an annual license. That would allow him to finally get his business going.

At 27, Marshall, a Montclair High School graduate and still a town resident, has been putting the pieces together, an elaborate process that has demanded a deep investment of time and money. He was assisted at the meeting by two attorneys, a professional planner and the business’ landlord.

“It was cool to see, cool how neighbors came out to support me,” he said.

Like all applicants – including companies seeking approval for retail licenses, and a manufacturing license – he paid a $15,000 application fee to Montclair. And like other enterprises, he had to secure a location before gaining approval.

The Planning Board’s role was to determine whether Genuine Grow satisfied zoning requirements, including that the business will not operate within 250 feet of a K-12 school or a licensed child care center. (Marshall’s location exceeds those distances.)

Marshall detailed how an automated system will eliminate any odor and that because it runs quietly and his doors will be outfitted with an airlock – similar, he said, to a department store’s doors – his facility will satisfy noise ordinances.  

The board’s questions took them into the finer points of the process. Board members learned about the growing benches, LED lights that will be positioned over the plants, the electrical equipment closet adjacent to the nursery.

Marshall said that he envisions three to six full-time employees, and a goal is to regularly bring in people on the autism spectrum to work part time.

In the months leading up to his presentation to the Planning Board, Marshall told Montclair Local that he wants to take advantage of his personal connection to the town and focus on selling the product to local retailers. The dynamic, he said, is similar to a market selling locally grown produce to its customers.

Among other donations to the town, Marshall said he plans to give $15,000 per year to Montclair’s Affordable Housing Fund.

The preparation, Marshall said, has turned him into something of an expert. Companies applying for licenses from the state have sought his consultation as he maneuvers through the process.

Near the end of his exchange with the board, some in the gallery came to the microphone to voice their support for his application.

“I met with Mr. Marshall with my colleague and we pummeled him with questions,” said Bob Silver, a developer who owns property nearby. “It was around security, odor mitigation, trash collection and operation, and he answered all those questions that day or did his homework and then he answered them tonight.”

William Scott, chair of the Montclair NAACP Housing Committee, said: “From the outset, when I had conversations with him, his interests, his commitment to the community, it just really said a lot about his character. To me, he seems a lot older in wisdom than 27 years old.”

Measured in tone, Marshall said he couldn’t contain his excitement and allowed himself to scream and clap once he got in his car. Once home, he said, he celebrated with a big piece of his mother’s banana bread.