Pennington Chooses a winner in the retail cannabis race

Pennington Borough Council met last week to hear applications from businesses seeking a Resolution of Support to operate a retail cannabis business. Three businesses vied for Council approval to secure the only retail cannabis license Pennington will issue: Jersey Meds, Fine Fettle, and Cannique. The Council stated their decision would be announced at the regular meeting Monday, March 7.

Jersey Meds owns, and has operated for many years, the Jersey Meds CBD Store, 31 Smoke & Vape, and the Lukoil and BP gas stations, all located on the Pennington Circle. Fine Fettle is a cannabis company currently operating dispensaries in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Cannique is headed by Rachel Donington, the Publisher of Hopewell Valley Neighbors, a free, monthly print circular distributed by Best Version Media. 

As of February 28, Jersey Meds proposed location was in the empty storefront next to Villa Francescos at the Shoppes at Pennington, Fine Fettle proposed to occupy the former TD bank building at the corner of Rt. 31 and East Delaware Avenue, and Cannique proposed to build on a vacant lot directly across Rt. 31 from the Shoppes at Pennington, behind the properties of the high school and County library. 

Mayor Davy began the proceedings on Monday, March 7 by announcing that Jersey Meds moved their proposed location from the Shoppes at Pennington to 7 Route 31 North (on the Pennington Circle) and provided Council a new lease agreement. The change appeared to be in reaction to the only public comment made last Monday evening after the presentations were complete. 

Courtney Peters-Manning, the Director of Finance and General Counsel for the Cambridge School, and also the Mayor of Hopewell Township, had voiced her extreme concern at the February 28 meeting regarding the Jersey Meds proposed location. Peters-Manning stated, “If you measure from property line to property line, the Jersey Meds [location] is zero feet from The Cambridge School. We share a parking lot with The Shoppes at Pennington.” 

She expressed concern regarding the Cannique application as well, due to its close proximity to the Cambridge School. Peters-Manning closed by pleading: “Please don’t put a dispensary in our parking lot.”

At the February 28 meeting, applicants had been asked about their proposed locations’ distance from schools. The issue was raised due to the New Jersey Drug Free School Zone law that makes distributing controlled substances within 1,000 feet of a school illegal. While cannabis is now legal in New Jersey, it remains illegal under federal law. At the February 28 meeting, each applicant was asked how far their facility was from a school. Only Fine Fettle offered information in that regard. Schools in the immediate vicinity of the three proposed locations are the Pennington School, the Cambridge School, and the Hopewell Valley Central High School, as shown on the map above.

Despite the quick reaction of Jersey Meds to the school’s concern, the Council decided to go with another applicant.

Council chose to award the Resolution of Support to Cannique. Their original proposal is for a 2,400 square foot freestanding structure to be erected at 144 W. Franklin Avenue. 

Council members were in agreement in their ranking of the applications. Cannique is their first choice, Fine Fettle second, and Jersey Meds third.

Nadine Stern expressed her reasons for supporting Cannique. “In the long run, I would give my support to Cannique. The reason is the nature of their local commitment and involvement and the understated nature of their facility. I definitely had concerns about Jersey Meds, I don’t know of them being a contributor to Pennington in any way before, so why would we think that that would be different.”

Stern continued by stating her concerns regarding the location of Fine Fettle at the old TD Bank building at 5 Route 31 North. “I don’t know that I like the idea of the Fine Fettle sign being the big sign you see as you enter Pennington.”

Katie Angerone agreed, “I would say having reviewed all of the applications and along with the criteria we are charged with taking a look at, I came to the same conclusion as Nadine.” Angerone cited the fact that the Cannique applicants are local residents and have medical training as deciding factors. 

The choice has been made, but it is not without reservations on the part of the Council members. Ken Gross stated his preference for the Cannique application, but expressed concerns related to the applicant’s ability to actually open for business  at the proposed location. Gross speculated that he believes the property is right at the line of Pennington and Hopewell Township. “I just don’t know legally if that can get us into any issues being so close to a residential neighborhood.”

Davy responded by saying “the ingress and egress will be onto Route 31” so it would likely not be an issue. Gross continued by questioning if the property in question is the house currently on the market that has dual zoning, “I guess they would close off the entrance to the house part of the property that goes right through the neighborhood.”

The timing was also a major concern for Council. The State will begin accepting applications to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission(CRC) March 15, and they will continue to be accepted on a rolling basis “until indicated otherwise,” according to the CRC regulations. While Jersey Meds and Fine Fettle indicated they are ready to file by that date, Cannique indicated that it is not ready.

The Council speculated as to the timing of zoning approval for the structure, the potential addition of a curb cut for the property, and the time needed to actually build the structure were all discussed as issues that would delay opening. 

The Cannique applicants also stated at thet meeting February 28 that they were still in the process of applying for certification as a women-owned business, which would provide priority status in the application process with the State of NJ. 

Kit Chandler stated her “only concern with Cannique is the time it is going to take for them to get going. And that is a concern because we do have two other viable options.” She questioned whether Cannique is ready to file their application with the State of NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission. Davy responded by saying,”From what I understood last week they are not ready to file because they are not women-owned business certified yet.”

“So we are giving our letter of approval to somebody who is not ready to file?” questioned Chandler. 

Council set an expiration date of their Resolution of Support for Cannique for May 2. If Cannique has not filed with the CRC by that date, their support will be withdrawn and Council will move to their second choice candidate.

Council President Chandler and Council Members Angerone, Gross, Marciante, and Stern all voted in favor of the Resolution of Support for Cannique. Absent from the proceedings was Council Member Gnatt.

The editorial staff apologizes to mapmakers and graphic artists everywhere for the quality of the map – we wanted to visualize what they were talking about and, with our limited resources, this was the best way. Original map, before marking up, is from google maps.

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