South Orange has approved 6 marijuana retailers

Photo by Joe Ungaro
Brenda Hopper owns this CannaBoy TreeHouse store in Union. She is working toward opening a CannaBoy that sells recreational marijuana in South Orange later this year.

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – The township has approved six potential marijuana retailers and three are close to opening up in the village.

“All are still in process,” said Julie Doran, acting township administrator. “Three have come back, so far, with conditional licenses from the state. One has dropped out. So now there are five that are still viable with three having conditional state approval to proceed.”

The process to open a recreational marijuana establishment requires a potential business to appear before the town, get a resolution of support, then go to the state for conditional approval, then back to the township for planning board approval, then back to the state for another approval before coming back to the township Board of Trustees for a final OK to open.

The state developed its own rules governing marijuana retailers but townships are allowed to create ordinances to add their own regulations, which South Orange did.

Village President Sheena Collum said the township ordinances were developed based on input from the South Orange Cannabis Task Force which included members of the public, Village professional staff, the South Orange Police Department and representatives of SOMA Action and SOMA Justice. The Task Force was chaired by Trustee Bob Zuckerman and guided by South Orange’s planning consulting firm, Topology.

“We established a process in South Orange,” Doran said. “A task force created our ordinance and then we opened up our application process to the public and received a lot of interest.”

The same task force interviewed all the applicants, who had filled out a detailed application. From those applications, six were selected, three micro businesses and three regular businesses, Doran said.
A microbusiness is a licensed cannabis related business with a relatively small operation, having no more than 10 employees at one time and a space no bigger than 2,500 square feet.

Town ordinance caps the number of regular dispensaries at two but there is no cap on the number of micro businesses that can open.

“That didn’t mean we would allow all six, just recommending six,” Doran said.
The applicants then went before the state and if they got approval, they came back to the planning board.

Two of the applicants are microbusinesses, CannaBoy TreeHouse and Lushly, while Garden State of Mind and Progressive Opportunities are regular businesses. There is another business seeking a full license from the state, which means they just need one approval from the state but they still have to go back to township.

CannaBoy Treehouse seems to be the closest to opening needing only final state and township approval.
“The others have not come back before the planning board,” Doran said..
Brenda Hopper, who was the state director of small business for 29 years before retiring, is the owner of CannaBoy TreeHouse. She is working with three generations of her family, her son Linsey Lofton and two grandchildren, Tatiana Lofton and Sasha Lofton.

“Linsey, my son, said ‘‘mom this cannabis stuff is on the rise,” Hopper said. “It’s going to be a very lucrative area. Let’s see if we can get a license.”
After submitting the paperwork, the license was approved in October of 2022.
CannaBoy has a CBD store in Union Township but when they sought to expand into recreational marijuana, they were constrained in Union by zoning ordinances which restricted marijuana sales to Route 22 and Webster Avenue.

Hopper said she looked for locations in those areas and in other towns but found that when landlords learned she planned to sell cannabis the rents would double or triple or the landlord would turn her down completely.

South Orange was quite open to a marijuana business and Hopper found a building she could purchase within the zone in the village where sales are allowed.

“We’re half a block from the train station and diagonal from the performing arts center,” Hopper said.
The store is currently being renovated and built to meet the standards set by both the state and the township. For example, the state requires a vault room where the product is kept and the township had requirements regarding the storefront and it conforming to the character of the township.

“We went before the planning board three or four times before they approved us conditionally,” Hopper said.
Hopper is hoping to have the work done in June and get final approval from the Cannabis Regulatory Commission and the township and open by the end of that month.

“This process is very expensive,” Hopper said. “The fact that I had to buy the property, I’m saying 6 or $700,000, then we had to do a number of other things including a traffic study.”
Hopper said she used her pension money to buy the building.
“I’m taking a risk but I’m hoping it’s a profitable risk,” she said.
The town gets 2 percent of the revenue from any marijuana business and the township ordinance also has a community benefits agreement, which requires the business to do something good for the town beyond paying taxes. Donations to local organizations or promoting social justice issues for example, Collum said.
“It will be a great benefit to the town,” Doran said. “Downtown South Orange is very happening right now. There are more businesses that want to do business downtown. It will bring more people to town.”
Specific parts of the town are zoned for possible marijuana sales, including along Valley Street4 and on South Orange Avenue near the train station.
When New Jersey residents voted to approve the referendum making marijuana legal, the majority in favor in South Orange was the highest of any municipality in the state.
“It’s an annual renewal so in the event that one of these applicants is in violation of the conditions from the planning board or if the township feels they are not living up to their promises, being good neighbors, there is nothing that compels the board to approve them perpetuity,” Collum said.