Lightshade withdraws plan to open medical marijuana dispensary on Bloomfield Avenue

Lightshade Labs, a marijuana dispensary, had sought to open at the former Diva Lounge, at 369-373 Bloomfield Ave. (GOOGLE STREET VIEW)

By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

Lightshade Labs has withdrawn its zoning application to become the second medical marijuana dispensary in Montclair. 

The state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission notified the Colorado-based company on Dec. 7 that it was denying its application for an alternative treatment center license. The commission first received more than 100 applications for dispensaries in 2019, but reviews for those and other marijuana facility licenses were tied up by a court case until 2021. The commission ultimately awarded 30 dispensary licenses, spread throughout the state. 

On Dec. 16, Lightshade’s attorney, Lisa A. John-Basta, sent a letter withdrawing the company’s application to the Montclair Zoning board, after years of trying to get approval to open a dispensary in the location of the former Diva Lounge at 369-373 Bloomfield Ave.

Whether Lightshade will apply to the state in any next round of permitting, and or seek another spot in Montclair, John-Basta told Montclair Local, “Lightshade has no definite plans at this time.”

Lightshade sought to open the dispensary once buildings on the Bloomfield property, which extends to Willow Street, were renovated. The Montclair Planning Board approved plans in October 2017 to renovate and adaptively reuse the former Diva Lounge and replace an automobile sale and repair business on Willow Street with a six-story building with 11 apartments and parking and retail on the first floor.

Lightshade first reached out to the township in August 2019 with its intention to open a medical marijuana center on the property, and to determine if an alternative treatment center was a permitted use for the property, which is in C-1 zone that allows for “convenience retail use.”

​​In August 2019, the Montclair zoning officer denied the application, saying a medical marijuana center did not meet the definition of a convenience retail use. In another letter dated Sept. 12, 2019, the officer also stated that the use is not permitted because the location is within 1,000 feet of Fusion Academy, a private accredited middle and high school, and that state regulations restricted the location of alternative treatment centers within 1,000 feet of schools.

The application that was withdrawn last month was an appeal of that decision, with hearings rescheduled several times since December of 2019. 

In the time since Lightshade first sought a hearing, Montclair set its first zoning rules specifically for marijuana establishments, after New Jersey legalized recreational maraijuana use in February of last year. 

Montclair’s ordinance allows alternative treatment centers as conditional uses in the C1 zone, and lets them be closer to schools, with a buffer of just 250 feet. But it also says they can’t be on the first floor of a building, as Lightshade proposed for its business.

In December 2012, Montclair was the first town in the state to welcome an alternative treatment center — then Greenleaf Compassion Center, now Ascend. However, the township had not yet created any ordinances zoning the establishments. Ascend is located on the first floor at 381 Bloomfield Ave, and Lightshade had argued it would be receiving “disparate treatment” by the township if not allowed to open at 369-373 Bloomfield Ave. 

Lightshade’s application and applications for about 150 other dispensaries were put on hold for more than a year, after some applicants that were rejected early over technical issues with their submissions sued the Department of Health. A state appellate court sided with the department on most of those cases in February, and reviews began once again.

In a Dec. 7 letter to Lightshade denying its application, the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission said applicants were scored on a rubric of up to 300 points that used “an objective methodology that ensures that there is an adequate supply of medicinal cannabis to meet the needs of registered patients.” Lightshade scored 158 points; the 30 dispensary applicants that were granted permits received scores of 205 273.33. The letter did not break down details of Lightshade’s score.

It did say because several New Jersey communities bar marijuana businesses, it didn’t automatically rule out applicants that happened to be in towns where other marijuana businesses already existed. Doing so could sometimes be necessary to serve a regional need, the commission said. 

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