Republished courtesy of New Jersey Monitor
Assemblyman Raj Mukherji’s involvement in a cannabis dispensary plan in Hoboken is leading to allegations of unfair political influence by critics of the plan who are intent on keeping the dispensary from opening.
Mukherji, a Hudson County Democrat who represents Hoboken in the state Assembly, helped connect the people who want to run the dispensary with the owners of the building where it’s slated to open, just weeks before the dispensary plan went before a local review board. The building’s owners are Jaclyn Fulop — wife of Steve Fulop, mayor of neighboring Jersey City — and Drew Nussbaum, who chairs a super PAC linked to Mayor Fulop.
Mukherji’s involvement in the dispensary plan comes as he is seeking to be elevated to the state Senate next year — Steve Fulop has endorsed him — and as the Jersey City mayor is eyeing a gubernatorial run in 2025.
In a statement to the New Jersey Monitor, Mukherji said he has no stake in the Hoboken dispensary plan and characterized his involvement — revealed in an email provided as evidence in a lawsuit filed by Hoboken residents opposed to the plan — as merely helping two friends get in touch.
“It’s certainly no secret I’ve invested in regulated cannabis for years, besides other health care businesses, and my late father was the first patient member of any of the NJ dispensaries’ medical advisory boards. But I don’t have, and have never had, any financial interest in a Hoboken dispensary, and I don’t have a client or real estate or loans or other indirect interest in this store (even though it would be perfectly legal),” he said.
Hoboken Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, a Democrat who opposes the dispensary plan, said Mukherji’s assistance on behalf of Nussbaum and the proposed cannabis shop’s managers illustrates the kind of behind-the-scenes politicking that she thinks is unhealthy for the state’s nascent cannabis industry.
“Seemingly, potentially, they’re using influence and position to do so,” Fisher said. “That just doesn’t feel right … It’s not consistent with the spirit of the state law.”
The property in question is 51-53 Fourteenth Street, a mixed-use building owned by Jaclyn Fulop and Nussbaum in a northeast section of the city. They are leasing a ground-floor location in the building to Texas-based Jason Vedadi, who is subleasing it to the planned cannabis shop, Story Dispensary of Hoboken. Story is partially owned by Howard Hintz, who has worked in the cannabis industry with Vedadi.
The location was previously home to a restaurant and bar, Hudson Tavern.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit — residents of the building’s condo units, who say they were told a physical therapy group would be open downstairs — want a judge to declare that Hoboken’s zoning laws do not permit a recreational cannabis dispensary in that location.
A November filing in the case includes the email that revealed Mukherji’s involvement. The assemblyman sent it on Jan. 17, 2022, to Nussbaum and copied a number of people connected to Story, including Vedadi.
In the email — the subject line is “51-53 14th Street” — Mukherji tells Nussbaum he is attaching a letter of intent signed by “the Vedadi group” and a landlord certificate, which is required for dispensaries to submit their application for a cannabis license.
Story received its first hearing in front of the Hoboken Cannabis Review Board one month after Mukherji’s email.
Mukherji, who is an attorney, is also the CEO of cannabis company CannaTech. He maintains that Nussbaum and Jaclyn Fulop are longtime friends of his, and that their physical therapy business is a former client of his law firm.
Mukherji and the Fulops are not the only Hudson County politicos with ties to the cannabis industry. Jersey City’s council in August approved a dispensary owned by the council president’s daughter, and another dispensary co-owned by Hudson County Commissioner Jerry Walker and Tuesday Caldwell — wife of Sen. Sandra B. Cunningham’s top aide — was approved by the Jersey City Cannabis Control Board earlier this month.
The Hoboken Cannabis Review Board has approved six applications so far. Hoboken’s council is slated to vote on giving Story its approval Wednesday night, approval that is key for the dispensary to open.
Residents opposed to the Story plan said they have concerns about noise, loitering, property values, insurance, and more. Fisher said she believes that a restaurant would have been welcomed in the Story location, but a late-night bar would’ve drawn the same controversy.
“If these plaintiffs think a restaurant-bar open till 2 a.m. is a better option than a high-end retail dispensary, they’re smoking even better stuff than this tenant will sell,” Mukherji said.
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