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Wu-Tang Clan rapper’s N.J. cannabis lounge rejected after church’s objections

Updated: Mar. 28, 2023, 7:08 p.m.

Published: Mar. 28, 2023, 1:00 p.m.


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Newark’s Central Planning Board stomped on a lot of buzzes Monday night, denying an application by Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon to open a cannabis lounge a block from the Prudential Center arena after church elders protested and one board member complained that the rendering was offensive.

A lawyer for the Hashstoria, the Oregon company co-founded by Corey Woods, a.k.a. Raekwon the Chef, had warned the board that the plan conformed to zoning and other requirements and that a denial would almost certainly lead to an appeal the company would win in court.

But that did not deter board members, who voted to reject Hashstoria’s site plan application after expressing concerns that lines would form outside the Broad Street location, parking would be a problem, and customers would walk out stoned.

Company representatives had tried to ease those and other concerns that were amplified by the objections of clergy and parishioners to the lounge during the public portion of Monday night’s Zoom meeting.

“I pray that you will put this somewhere else, not in the heart of Newark,” said the Rev. Doris Glaspy, a pastor at the Old First Presbyterian Church on Broad Street across from the proposed lounge. “We’re not against people smoking marijuana if they want to. But they can put it somewhere else.”

Bessie Lee Watts, a church elder, cited the Old First Presbyterian’s roots as the city’s first church, with origins dating back to Newark’s founding in the 1660s.

“This church is the founder of Newark, New Jersey, and this is not the kind of issue that is going to be helpful and productive to the city of Newark,” Watts told the board.

Recreational marijuana dispensaries began opening in New Jersey last April. But this year the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission adopted rules for on-site “consumption areas,” or lounges. Hashstoria, whose first lounge opened in Astoria, Oregon, hoped to become one of the first places in New Jersey where patrons could buy their pot and smoke it, too.

Richard Partyka, the chairman of the city Landmark and Historic Preservation Commission, said his board approved Hashstoria’s application to a location in the Four Corners Historic District last month after the City Council had acted on the matter. Partyka said Hashstoria’s representatives were cooperative, agreeing to change the facade to look more like the architecture of the 19th Century building the business would occupy.

City Council President LaMonica McIver said that, as the local ruling body, the council took the necessary step of endorsing Hashstoria’s application with the state to operate a cannabis lounge.

Hashstoria’s main representative at Monday night’s hearing, Josh Sanderlin, told board members that the dispensary and lounge would be safe and orderly, with no activity outdoors and nothing to advertise the nature of the business inside.

He said it would be for adults 21 and older, with cameras everywhere but the bathrooms. The dispensary would be on the ground floor, separated from the consumption lounge, offices and inventory upstairs. By law, consumption areas are required to be in the same building as the dispensary.

“In case of an invasion, they will not be able to get away with anything,” Sanderlin assured the board.

He said to-go pot would be sent downstairs in pneumatic tubes, one purchase at a time. An employee would lead customers seeking to get high upstairs and seat them at a table, and a server would take their order and then bring them their selection.

But the board was unmoved, and the application crashed when the vice chair, Kalenah Witcher, presiding over the hearing in the absence of Chairman Wayne Richardson, took offense at a drawing in a rendering of the lounge’s façade.

It was a triptych of a woman’s lips and tongue rolling and smoking a large joint. “It was offensive,” Witcher said.

The “placeholder” art, as Hashstoria officials called it, was meant to convey that the front windows would display local artwork.

Sanderlin and the company’s lawyer, Kelly Carey, assured Witcher that the actual lounge windows would not include the subject matter in the rendering. But Witcher asked if the applicants would adjourn the hearing without a vote on the application and return on April 24 with a cleaned-up rendering and additional testimony.

They were not, and after a brief standoff, a board member made a motion to deny the application, which Witcher seconded. Members were confused about whether to vote yes or no, and the final count was unclear. But the board’s attorney, Daniel Becht, eventually declared, “the application is denied.”

Carey had cautioned the board that Hashstoria’s application met all requirements. “if the board does not approve this this evening, it goes to court and very quickly gets overturned,” she said.

“I would concur with counsel,” Becht told the board.

Steve Strunsky may be reached at sstrunsky@njadvancemedia.com


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