Ready, set, lease!

Cannabis cultivation licenses were awarded only two weeks ago in New Jersey, but many of the 68 new license winners have extensive plans and often have already locked up real estate for their facilities.

Darren Chandler, previously a medical license applicant, is planning to use property he secured three years ago near Trenton for his medical license application for his newly-won 30,000 foot adult use grow.

“I’m in real estate, and so I knew from experience that securing the location and the permitting and zoning was going to be one of the most difficult parts,” said Chandler, who says working with local officials has gone smoothly. “We’ve been their local partner for three years.”

Another license winner, Mike Hatcher, who’s first business is a flavor manufacturing company, has already lined up a 50,000 square foot building in Franklin Township for cultivation and a manufacturing facility he’s planning to apply for soon.

“I’ve been working on this since 2018, I have growers on payroll. The architect has already designed the space and we’re going to be up and growing in 90 days. We anticipate to be one of the first in the market,” said Hatcher.

Tom Armstrong, a native of Central Jersey’s Somerset County, who spent time working as a grower in California’s Humboldt County, says he’s still working on locking down a location in Franklin Township in Somerset, where real estate costs are much lower – and towns are hankering for new businesses.

“I think more municipalities in New Jersey, you know, are receptive to it than in a state like California,” said Armstrong, who is planning for a facility with a 25,000 square foot canopy and is hoping to break ground in three to five months.

But finding that great location may be hard, says Jessica Gerstein, a leasing associate at commercial real estate brokerage, Lee & Associates in New York City.

“It’s the proximity between places of worship, schools, parks, libraries…It’s really about the opt-in, opt-out from the town. That’s led to a lot of challenges to find compliant space.”

Following a deadline to opt out of the adult use program, almost 71% of New Jersey municipalities – nearly 400 towns – chose to ban all cannabis businesses from siting within their borders, creating tight demand for new license holders.

All three new license owners say they think there’s a lot of room for improvement over product offerings from the dominant multi-state operators running New Jersey’s ATCs.

“New Jersey has a lot of big MSOs, but those aren’t tangible brands that consumers really care about. Those are just kind of their names, but they aren’t necessarily brands that are going to attract the consumer due to their quality or history or name in the industry,” said Armstrong.

“We’ll bring real product to the table,” said Hatcher, who plans to use his flavor knowledge to work by creating unusual and high quality edibles. “We’re not doing it to satisfy shareholders, We’re doing it because we love what we’re doing.”

Regardless of what they produce, the new license holders are uniformly exuberant about kicking off their weed businesses.

“I just want to put some praise out for the CRC. It’s important to note that they made some corrections to the process and got things right,” said Chandler. “I’m excited to bring some East Coast flavor to the business.”


Editor Mike is a co-founder and the editor of Grown In, a U.S. national cannabis industry newsletter and training company. His career has taken him from Capitol Hill to Chicago City Hall, from...