NEPTUNE – It was a unique ribbon cutting ceremony for what is now the first Jersey Shore-based adult-use cannabis business offering products for recreational use.
The township-based Zen Leaf Dispensary opened its doors on an early Friday morning celebrating its newest location as one of only a few dispensaries currently operating in the state for customers of recreational marijuana.
It took only six months to transform the empty storefront that was once a Smash Burger franchise into an anchor store for the strip mall complex at 2100 Route 66 in the township. The dispensary is owned and operated by Verano, a multi-state cannabis operator in the U.S. with two existing New Jersey dispensaries in Elizabeth and Lawrence.
The Zen Leaf dispensary has been serving medical patients since April 16, 2021.
The dispensary was welcomed by officials of the township including Mayor Nicholas Williams who returned for the more recent ribbon cutting that expanded their operation for recreational cannabis customers.
“I get the pleasure of cutting the ribbon two times as the mayor couldn’t make it last year and this year I’m the mayor,” Williams said. “I think this is great. When we originally (approved the sale) of medical marijuana and we brought Zen Leaf in I felt we made a great decision. They were established and well known and I have a sub-committee along with our administrator and our attorney and now recreational marijuana is coming to Neptune.”
The mayor said the sub-committee put the ordinance together for the recreational use regulations and brought it to the governing body.
Verano is the sole operator currently permitted to sell recreational cannabis in Neptune and the expansion into that area of sales means an increase in jobs from 30 to several hundred. Public officials, police and Zen Leaf/Verano staff gathered for the ribbon cutting at 7:30 a.m. which was followed by the start at 8 a.m. for sales of medical use cannabis but the real excitement came at 9 a.m. when customers were able to make sales for the first time of recreational cannabis products.
Drew Tybus, the founder and chief executive officer of Oak Public Relations spoke to Jersey Shore Online about Zen Leaf’s expansion during the grand opening as workers were busy inflating and tying a small dirigible shaped balloon that flew from the roof of the building during the ceremony.
“I don’t think people know in general the employment opportunities that the cannabis industry in New Jersey presents. It is phenomenal. The Branchburg facility in Central Jersey where the cultivation is done, took over a vacant Super Walmart and converted it into a mega cultivation facility and you see the people employed there and the job growth they have. It shows the pathway from planting seedlings to managing to inventory managing. There are careers that can be had with cannabis,” Tybus said.
“Even on the store level I’ve been watching as people go from the front desk checking people in to putting products on the counter to inventory manager, store manager to becoming a regional manager. A couple of years ago there were no jobs in this industry and now it is a career path.”
Customers that day were also able to find product specials, new live resin products, Zen Leaf branded tote bags, rolling papers, sunglasses, t-shirts, and other items.
Most Monmouth and Ocean County communities passed ordinances to ban or restrict cannabis operations in their communities. Neptune was the exception in Monmouth County and Lakehurst and South Toms River boroughs are also welcoming such operations in their Ocean County communities.
Tybus said “the federal rules are anything you sell in the state must be made in the state so you have smaller dispensary companies who are independent who want to start a dispensary and create their own cultivation center so they will probably be central. I don’t think Verano would be doing that as they have an operation to scale as they have had their facilities for a couple of years now and they didn’t need all that space for just medical purposes. They have scale so they can get bigger.”
He said more likely small-town operations would find an independent dispensary and cultivation company.
In speaking about the facility, Tybus said, “this is not what people mistakenly believe a dispensary might be. It is beautiful inside and very welcoming and the staff is very knowledgeable in what they are doing. The presence in the community is not bringing in problems to the area. It is bringing in excitement and energy.”
Waiting on line for their chance to purchase recreational marijuana products that morning was Robyn Rabe of Toms River and Donna Pointset of Wall Township.
“I’m very, very happy. Not that I had a hard time getting it before,” Rabe said.
“This makes it easy,” Pointset interjected. “This is our first time. We’ve never been in there.”
Rabe is hoping that a community closer to her will open in the future. She said she would welcome a dispensary in South Toms River and Lakehurst.
“It has been a long time coming. Now we don’t feel we were doing something wrong. Everything was so secretive,” Pointset added.
“I can light up and not worry and that is a wonderful experience,” Rabe said.