Last month, the Pennington Borough Council issued three letters of resolution in support of all three applicants vying for the Pennington’s only Class 5 Retail Cannabis License in the Borough. Applicants for State approval are required to have municipal support. Pennington Borough’s zoning allows for only one retail establishment.
After issuing a single, conditional, letter of support to Cannique in March, Cannique failed to meet Council’s condition of filing with the State of New Jersey by May 2. Since they missed the deadline, Council opened the process up again and voted in May to issue letters of resolution to all three applicants: Cannique, Fine Fettle, and Jersey Meds. At its meeting Monday, June 6, Council weighed its May decision after Rachel Donington, one of the owners of Cannique, shared her concerns related to the process and the behavior of Jersey Meds in the run up to the decision.
Donington asserted that Jersey Meds changed its corporate structure and the membership of their LLC and contended that the alleged change is unfair to the other applicants. In her statement, Donington stated that Cannique had filed an Open Public Records Act request to find out more information on the Jersey Meds application.
“My concerns are that Jersey Meds created a new LLC and that LLC did not go through the pre-qualification process,” stated Donington. “We did not change our entity, Fine Fettle did not change their entity, but this one applicant completely created a new corporation that is not the one that applied to the Borough. Therefore we feel this should be looked at again.”
Borough Attorney Walter Bliss responded to Donington’s concerns by stating the facts of the process: “We invited all three applicants to apply to the Borough. All three went through the same process. All three answered the same questions. All three made presentations to Council.”
“We were focusing on the appropriateness of the location, which is what a resolution of support is supposed to address, primarily,” stated Bliss.
Donington’s concerns arose after it became clear at the end of the May meeting that Jersey Meds had a clear advantage over the other two applicants due to their possession of a conditional application from the State of New Jersey. The conditional license takes priority over businesses seeking an annual application at the State level. In order to qualify for a conditional application, you must show an income level under $200,000 a year. Ownership of the entity becomes a key factor in processing of applications at the State level as conditional applications are looked at first. Since all three businesses now have the municipal resolution of support, it is a race to the State to be the first one to get approval to secure the single retail establishment in Pennington.
Both Fine Fettle and Cannique expressed their dissatisfaction with the process and the fact that Jersey Meds ended up with a clear advantage.
“It becomes difficult to engage in a process for ourselves if we know that someone is starting from the 80 yard mark in 100 yard dash and without understanding that we could have made changes,” said Ben Zacks, CEO of Fine Fettle. “Whether that was misunderstanding by us or an inconsistency in the set-up, probably both are true.”
“We never made any misrepresentations about the applicant, who we are, and our intentions to be in town,” stated counsel for Jersey Meds, Alan Fox of Capehart Scatchard. “We presented testimony and we proved to you that we satisfied all of the elements of your statute on the suitability of our location. That is what you were voting on.”
Kit Chandler, Council President, proposed a resolution to move forward with what was decided at the May 2 meeting with no changes and that the Council members do what they can to advance the zoning letter the applicants need for approval at the State level. Chandler and Council Members Kati Angerone, Ken Gross, Charles Marciante, and Nadine Stern voted in support of the resolution with Deborah Gnatt abstaining.
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