Pennington Borough one step closer to retail cannabis

Pennington Borough Council conducted a Special Meeting on the evening of Monday, February 28, to hear applications seeking Ccouncil support for a State of New Jersey retail cannabis license. 

Three companies presented applications to the Council seeking a Resolution of Support. At a previous meeting, Pennington approved one retail cannabis location, without a consumption area, in the designated Highway Business Zone on Route 31. Before the meeting Monday night, applicants were required to submit a completed questionnaire to clarify critical issues for Council members. 

First to present their plan was Jersey Meds, represented by cannabis attorney Alana Hans-Cohen. 

Hans-Cohen stated that Jersey Meds is both a minority and women-owned business that has owned and operated many small businesses in Pennington over the past 16 years.  

Hans-Cohen introduced Dolly Lalchandani, one of the owners. Lalchandani explained that her company owns gas stations, convenience stores, tobacco stores, and CBD stores. In the past, the group has also owned and operated liquor stores. The group owns and operates the Jersey Meds CBD Store, 31 Smoke & Vape, and the Lukoil and BP gas stations, all located on the Pennington Circle. 

Jersey Meds indicated that they have a long history of responsibly selling tobacco and CBD products. Lalchandani explained: “In our businesses, we implement strict protocols to comply with all local, state and federal regulations.”  In addition, she said that their businesses have a long history of employing more than 50 people while contributing to the community.

The Jersey Meds proposed retail location is in The Shoppes at Pennington. Mayor Jim Davy asked about the distance from their proposed site to the nearest school. The exact distance was not readily available at the time of the meeting.

Second to present was Fine Fettle, a cannabis company currently operating dispensaries in Massachusetts and Connecticut. 

Danielle Perlman spoke first for the group citing her husband, Jeremy’s family as long-time residents and business owners in Mercer County. They chose Fine Fettle as partners in the cannabis business due to their long industry history and personal relationship with CEO Ben Zacks.

“Fine Fettle is the best of the best. They operate cannabis cultivation sites and retail sites throughout the northeast and beyond. They know what they are doing,” Danielle Perelman stated. “We were not going to be comfortable trying to bring the cannabis industry to our community and our backyard unless we were working with people we trust, people who know the business, know how to deliver excellent product safely.”

Ben Zacks, CEO of Fine Fettle explained his history in the cannabis business over the last three years. He said his business has been operating since 2019, gaining approved licenses in three states and having just won a fourth. Zacks shared that “within 2023, we expect to have 12 dispensaries open. We currently have five dispensaries, two cultivation facilities, and a processing lab. We operate in Massachusetts, where we have an outdoor cultivation facility as well as the only cultivation facility on Martha’s Vineyard…where we test, grow, process, and retail.”

Zacks shared that Fine Fettle was just awarded first place out of 69 applicants across the state of Georgia, which will allow the company to open a 50,000 square foot cultivation facility and five dispensaries in the state. His company employs 130 people nationwide and aims to be the number one place to work. “We are in three states that literally touch each other in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, and they have completely different markets and laws. We have zero compliance infractions, which we take incredibly seriously.”

The proposed location for Fine Fettle is 5 Route 31. Zacks explained that since this building is the old TD Bank location, it makes for a solid retail cannabis location, “it is the perfect location for [four] key reasons that come up…not affecting other businesses negatively, not affecting traffic, smell, and security.”

Zacks stated that the drive-thru would be used for loading, not to serve customers. The glass windows currently existing at the property will be frosted for privacy, as security is a top priority 

Ryan Kennedy, land use attorney for Fine Fettle, spoke to concerns about the proposed establishment’s distance to the nearest school. “Lot line to lot line, it is about one thousand feet to the Cambridge School. It is about as far as you can be from the school while still being in the [approved] zone.” When asked about the distance to Hopewell Valley Central High School, Kennedy stated that distance “is more than one thousand feet.” When asked about The Pennington School, Kennedy said, “As the crow flies, it is about 500 feet, but door to door is something considerably further.”

Last to present Monday evening was Cannique.

Rachel Donington shared the Cannique plan to bring “an upscale health and wellness-focused cannabis boutique to the Pennington community, the place we call home….we are hyper-local. Pennington and the Hopewell Valley is our home.”

Donington introduced the Cannique board, including neurologist Dr. Jill Farmer, Janice Mintz owner of Poppy Boutique, and Dave Knowlton, a volunteer firefighter and former Deputy Commissioner of Health for the State of NJ. Pennington resident Delroy Williams, Killian Strong, an attorney specializing in cannabis, and businessman Rob Moroni round out the Cannique board.

Mintz shared her commitment to the Pennington community:. “Cannique’s track record has the clear track record of commitment to the community, and this is evident from the many civic roles we have all taken on.”

“Cannique leadership also has significant administrative, regulatory and operational depth,” Mintz continued, “both generally and in the medical cannabis business. We are lawyers and CPAs, business owners and physicians, MBA’s and journalists.”

The proposed location for Cannique is 144 W. Franklin Avenue. The building is not currently existing. Dolington shared that the site “allows us to build a freestanding structure as we are sensitive to the businesses and the shopping centers across Route 31 as well as to our customers.”

Farmer stated the unique advantage of the Cannique board members, “We are local. We live here, we work here, and we have for decades. We are loyal. We are only looking to provide this access to our community. We are consistent. The community has already voted its interest in cannabis, and we are being consistent with what their vote showed.”

Councilmember Chico Marciante expressed concern at the length of time it would take for Cannique to build a structure from scratch. Cannique board member Rob Moroni stated that the company does not have a signed lease for the property at this time. In his estimation, the building of the structure is likely to add six to eight months to the process of opening the location.

Mayor Davy asked the Cannique board if they measured the distance from the nearest schools. The answer was not readily available at the time of the meeting.

Pennington Borough Council is scheduled to meet again this evening, March 7, to award their Resolution of Support to one of these applicants.

Edited Monday March 7 at 10:13am to correct typographical errors.

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