An empty lot near East Orange City Hall could be one of the first cannabis dispensaries in the Oranges — with a smoking lounge likely to come in the future.
The construction of a four-story building at 381 Main Street was approved by the city’s planning board last month. The ground floor would become the home of the Flower Garden Cannabis Dispensary, and the owner, New Life Construction & Management, has plans to put consumption rooms on the top three floors. But they withdrew those plans from the application, for now, noting that legislation is still being finalized at the state level.
The first floor at 381 Main Street includes a small waiting room and a sales counter. Before entering the premises, customers will pass two armed security guards who will check to see if patrons are at least 21 years old. Once inside, customers make their selection on an iPad, according to Tenisha Victor, director of emerging markets at Ayr Wellness, who was hired as a consultant.
“No products accessible are on the floor — all the products are kept in child-resistant packaging and in opaque packaging,” said Victor, who runs her own dispensaries in Union, Woodbridge, and Eatontown. “So no loose products whatsoever are kept in the building at all.”
Although the local ordinance allows dispensaries to stay open until midnight, the board stipulated as a condition of approval that the facility must close at 10 p.m., which is similar to the closing time of other dispensaries in the area. “If the one in East Orange is open until midnight, then between 10 p.m. and midnight, you’re going to have all of Essex and Union County trying to get to the one in East Orange between those hours,” said Darryl Scipio, planning board member.
The closest dispensaries are Ascend in Montclair, Rise in Bloomfield, and the Apothecarium in Maplewood. While local governments are allowed to approve cannabis licenses, the state isn’t reviewing any new licenses for distribution. The only shops that are permitted to sell cannabis are ones that have already been selling medical marijuana.
As dispensaries await the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission to give the green light to consumption lounges, a number of questions surround these types of establishments, chief among them, how will they make money?
“That’s the million dollar question,” said Robert Mejia, adjunct professor of Cannabis Studies at Stockton University. “It’s very hard for a consumption lounge to make money right now.”
As the draft legislation currently stands, consumptions lounges will not be allow to sell food or drinks. Patrons are also allow to bring their own products into these establishments. Mejia believes lounges will appeal to people who are staying in hotels or don’t live in a places were landlords allow smoking. “There’s almost nowhere to consume,” Mejia said.
The first consumption lounge to open in New Jersey will likely be in Atlantic City, where two venues were approved. For those who abhor the smell of a burning spliff, fear not: the likelihood of a lounge propping up near your home is slim. Only a dispensary can open a consumption lounge.
“So many municipalities don’t want cannabis business,” Mejia told the Four Oranges, noting that only 11 municipalities in New Jersey allow for consumption lounges. “By the fall, we may very well have seven or eight that are open.”
The next CRC public hearing is on April 13.