BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Competition is fierce in bid for new medical marijuana licenses

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Former NFL lineman Leonard Marshall talked about opening a medical marijuana dispensary inside a former Concentra Medical Center. The 5,000-square foot building is in Paterson’s rundown Second Ward. Marshall’s a spokesperson for Hillview Med, one of 50 applicants for a dispensary license in North Jersey.

“We’ll create some economic change here in Paterson. And I think that, if you take a look around at the landscape of things here, it could use kind of an uplift,” he said.

“This particular spot was actually a perfect spot for us,” said Hillview Med CEO Ken Vande Vrede. “It’s two blocks away from St. Joe’s.”

The location is also 1,000-feet from a drug free school zone, says Vande Vrede. Regulations are strict. The state prefers applicants with strong corporate commitment to the local community.

“Hire Paterson residents here, put them through a job training. We’re probably going to need 30 to 40 employees here at this location,” Vande Vrede said.

“Paterson’s economy could use a shot in the arm and this could provide that. We’re not in a position to turn away any potential revenue,” said Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh.

While the mayor welcomes jobs and tax revenues, dispensaries also generate security risks because they’re largely a cash businesses. Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale has no qualms.

“We always recommend that they hire police officers because that’s the best security,” he said. “Do escorts to the banks, you know, handle those types of situations to make it safer.”

The state also wants firms that can cultivate, manufacture and dispense medical cannabis products. Vande Vrede’s family farm, GroRite in Pequannock, cultivates basil in 750,000-square feet of greenhouses with the ability to scale up to 2.2 million-square feet. New Jersey’s Department of Health will award six new medical cannabis dispensary licenses — two each for North, Central and South Jersey.

Competition’s fierce. Jordan Lams heads Pure NJ — another North Jersey applicant for somewhere in Morris County.

“We’re respecting the town’s request for lack of disclosure just because it’s still a developing process. That being said, we do, for a manufacturing and cultivation facility, have approval in hand,” Lams said.

Pure NJ plans an efficient dispensary with no lines. It’s important given almost 33,000 patients have now signed up for Jersey’s medical marijuana program. It’s got 5 acres of greenhouses and a 20-acre farm somewhere in Morris County. It anticipates creating up to 100 jobs within six months to a year. It’s already operating in four states — Nevada, Michigan, California and Pennsylvania.

“Within less than six months, we built a facility from the ground up in Pennsylvania and brought product to the market, so where we now command the leading market share for the products in that medical program. Additionally we think New Jersey as a whole is going to be successful, because in all the markets we’ve operated in, the recipe for success really tends to be when the administration from the top takes ownership of the process. And we’ve seen that in spades from Gov. Murphy’s team,” Lams said.

It’s getting down to the wire. The state’s expected to announce the six new licensees Nov. 1.

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