Charles Penn and Corey Dishmen aren’t afraid of doing the work. They’re just hoping that the system doesn’t work against them.
Penn and Dishmen are the COO and CEO, respectively, of The Library of New Jersey, a social equity cannabis candidate aiming to open a retail space for adult use in West Orange.
“On paper, the application process looks equitable,” said Dishmen. “The state structured applications so that a social equity or minority applicant or someone from an impact zone should go to the top of the pile.
“But how are people going to make it to the top when lawyer fees cost $40,000 to start? The average person is not going to have that, let alone be able to secure property first.”
The Library knows the financial and real estate-related challenges they are facing aren’t unique to them. They want others to understand the process of garnering a cannabis license in the state. The group didn’t submit their paperwork on March 15, when New Jersey started accepting applications, as they are waiting for municipal approval; another step The Library believes will slow down many entrepreneurs.
“I wouldn’t say that it bothers me,” said Penn. “I would say that when it comes to licensing and site control, things are being done in the wrong order. We know there needs to be some type of understanding on where to put funds, but before that, let’s give people the licenses.
“Needing the municipal approval before getting the state license, why can’t I get the license and then choose where I want to be? A lot of municipalities are not even ready with their process. I understand we are getting into new territory in New Jersey, but this is not new territory by any means for the country.”
The Library has secured preliminary approval from a different municipality, but the duo has done a lot of community outreach in West Orange and prefers the suburban vibe of township. They thought they had site control in the area, but the property they had eyed on was sold to another investor. They are now waiting for April 1, a date slated for new zoning approvals in the township for cannabis businesses.
“It slows down the timeline a bit,” said Dishmen.
While they continue to do their due diligence before submitting their application, the group is focusing on providing a blueprint for social equity candidates on how to go about the process.
The financial constraints and challenging application process has been well documented. What’s new is that The Library is looking to help other mom-and-pop shops venturing down the same path it has.
“We have formed a separate company called March for Equity that is going to be devoted to bringing awareness to these issues and combat the problem we are facing,” continued Dishmen. “We want to take this set of circumstances and form a blueprint so that people can find ways to ascertain these funds. We were fortunate that we secured funding, but there was no blueprint.
“Hopefully we are providing a blueprint for people to follow without being deterred.”
As noted in Grown In’s companion piece Monday, the NJ CRC has delayed the adult use market until further notice due to concerns over supply and access for medical patients once legalization kicks off.
“I think we can call it an unintended benefit,” said Edmund DeVeaux, President of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association. “Initially, everyone’s focus was when will we start adult use purchases. Even the Governor’s budget includes revenue from the industry taking off.
“There are consequences of not initiating the industry in the time that people wish it had been. But I think you have the benefit of letting people get closer to developing their applications and getting them in.”
The unofficial extension allows groups like The Library to continue to dot their I’s and cross their T’s. There were over 270 applications submitted during the opening period for the state’s retail licenses, but The Library says it will take a lot more than that to discourage them from setting up shop.
“It’s the people that come behind us that we are passionate for as well,” said Penn. “The reason why it’s not a problem for us is because of our business plan. There can be 10 pizzerias on the same block, but the love you put into it is what separates you from everyone else.”
Added Dishmen: “We are still going to get through this process, we have the key players in position. But for the people behind us without those circumstances, that’s who we are fighting for.
“That’s why we do it and that’s why we are so passionate about this.”