SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — As New Jersey seeks six additional alternative treatment centers, the South Orange Board of Trustees passed a resolution to allow medical marijuana businesses to apply to set up a dispensary in the village.
Five of the six trustees gathered Monday, Aug. 20, in a special meeting scheduled just a few days earlier and announced Aug. 17, due to “time urgency,” to hear public comment and vote on the resolution.
The resolution was unanimously passed by Trustees Steve Schnall, Walter Clarke, Mark Rosner, Deborah Davis Ford and Howard Levison. Trustee Karen Hartshorn Hilton was absent.
“Everything is on a very, very tight time schedule” as applications are due by the end of the month and early adopters are given special consideration, said Schnall, who served as acting president in the absence of village President Sheena Collum. “Normally we would not prefer it to go this way. We have been talking about this coming down the pike I think for some time now, but no one expected it to hit like that.”
Community members present at the meeting all expressed support for the resolution.
“South Orange has proven itself to me time and again by becoming a sanctuary city, by raising the transgender flag, by bringing together all its citizens in the common cause of making our world a better place. I have high hopes that I will add this ATC to the list so that we can help ease the suffering of those around us,” resident Margaret Marlow said at the meeting, referring to the treatment center.
Peter “Casey” Holstein, another village resident, said he is a “big supporter of this, this measure, this endeavor.”
“I’m in the health care profession, primarily dealing with the elderly. I see the benefits of some of the uses of these products on certain conditions,” Holstein said. “Having this opportunity to be part of the next generation of, I think, pervasive thinking in health care, and from a monetization standpoint and tax standpoint, it’s good for the town.”
Schnall also informed the community that “tens of dispensaries,” have expressed interest in setting up a business in the village. However, while the state license calls for the dispensary to take charge of all aspects of its business — specifically growing, distributing and selling its medical marijuana — if such businesses come into town, they will be allowed only to sell in South Orange, and must grow their product elsewhere. According to Schnall, “real estate, quite frankly, is too expensive.”
Village resident Mindy Feld, a certified cannabis counselor, clarified that the applicant must be able to grow, distribute and sell, and while it does not have to be in the same location and can have up to two locations in the state to carry out all the processes, it must be able to do all.
In an email to the News-Record following the meeting, Schnall said that, while he himself only conversed with one interested business, most have reached out directly to Collum, who “does not have enough time and cycles to respond to each of them” and, therefore, “very little direct conversations were had.”
Trustees did not disclose which businesses were interested nor did they discuss possible locations for the dispensary.
Feld also emphasized that “the state will choose the entity and not the location.”
“They pick the entity which has applied for the license,” Feld said of how the state selects businesses to receive a license, adding that, in order to apply for a license, a dispensary must submit geographical plans for its business. “They must submit plans, they must submit a location, the must have property, either already in their possession, purchased, or are able to purchase within the 90-day period.”
The 90-day period begins once the application is submitted, Feld said in a phone call with the News-Record.
Schnall told the News-Record that “it is not up to the board to find a location for the business, but rather the business to seek their own location.”
A few business owners on South Orange Avenue, who did not wish to be identified, have said that dispensaries have approached them, interested in assuming their leases.
“Most properties in South Orange are privately held, and would be transactions arranged between the business entities,” Schnall told the News-Record.
Schnall clarified, however, that locations chosen by businesses must meet the board’s approval as well as any state regulations, which state that chosen locations must be at least 1,000 feet from the boundary of any school property.
“This greatly reduces the potential sites for such businesses,” Schnall said. “We would only entertain putting such business in the downtown business district zone.”
The state’s six chosen applicants will be announced Nov. 1, but will have through November to complete any remaining work.
Photos by Kaanita Iyer