License approved, Cannabis lounge plans early 2024 opening
Rapper Raekwon the Chef, Charlamagne tha God, and Civil Rights Lawyer to Open Cannabis Smoking Lounge in Downtown Newark.
A cannabis smoking lounge planned for downtown Newark by rapper Raekwon the Chef of the Wu-Tang Clan, hip-hop radio personality Charlamagne tha God, and a South Carolina civil rights lawyer cleared its final bureaucratic hurdle last week and plans to open early next year, the three announced Monday.
On Thursday, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission granted a Class V license to Oregon-based Hashstoria to operate a lounge where patrons can buy and smoke or eat marijuana products upstairs from a retail dispensary where the drug will be sold.
“We are excited to be working with the great city of Newark to safely and legally expand the cannabis industry in the city,” the lawyer, Bakari Sellers, said in a statement. “We are extremely proud to become members of this great community and will strive daily to have a positive impact and help bring cannabis opportunities to a community that spent decades as targets of the failed War on Drugs.”
Raekwon, 53, a Brooklyn native born Corey Woods, founded Hashstoria in Astoria, Oregon, long after winning global fame with the Wu-Tang hip-hop collective. Charlamagne, 45, born Larry Thomas McKelvey in South Carolina, is a partner in the Newark store, along with Sellers, 39, a civil rights advocate and attorney with the Strom Law Firm in Columbia, South Carolina.
Recreational marijuana dispensaries began opening in New Jersey in April 2022, and many communities have them, including Newark’s Essex County neighbor Bloomfield and suburban Montclair. But it was only this year that the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission adopted rules for on-site “consumption areas,” or lounges.
Upon opening, Hashstoria, situated in a high-profile location on Broad Street about three blocks North of the Prudential Center arena, would be the first cannabis consumption lounge in Newark and the second retail dispensary of any kind in the state’s largest city. The first was the Urb’n Dispensary, a purchase-only store that recently opened in a remote spot on South Street near Interstate 78 in Newark’s East Ward.
The Newark City Council adopted changes to its land use ordinance in 2021, allowing dispensaries for retail use, with the potential for dozens to open up. However, it limited the number of consumption lounges to two. Thursday’s state license approval follows several necessary local authorizations for Hashstoria granted earlier this year, including an official endorsement of the concept from the Newark City Council, site plan approval from the Central Planning Board, and a review by the city Landmark and Historic Preservation Commission because of its location in the Four Corners Historic District.
But the project has met public and official resistance.
In March, the planning board initially voted to reject Hashstoria’s site plan application after members of the Old First Presbyterian Church on Broad Street urged the board to force the applicants to locate somewhere else in town. Board members expressed concerns that lines would form outside the lounge, parking would be a problem, and customers would walk out stoned, though Hashstoria’s representatives tried to assure them those problems would not arise.
Members voted down the application after their vice chair, Kalenah Witcher, said she found a rendering of the lounge’s façade “offensive” because it included window art depicting a pair of lips rolling and smoking a marijuana cigarette. After the applicants satisfied its concerns, the board approved the project on July 24.
City Council President LaMonica McIver said Tuesday that the concerns were understandable but unwarranted.
“I do understand the concerns of churchgoers and other businesses about something that is new to the community,” McIver said. “But I think that with the proper regulation, which the city has worked hard to put in place, I think that will be a successful business and a respectable business.”