If all goes according to schedule, a high-end cannabis dispensary will open next spring on a rowdy section of Christopher Columbus Drive downtown.
The brainchild of Jersey City native Julissa Bonilla, Cannaboutique will occupy a 2,500-square-foot space directly across from the LGBTQ bar Six26 and two doors away from a down-market liquor store.
According to Bonilla, Cannaboutique will be anything but rowdy. With a design that wouldn’t look out of place in Chelsea or Soho, Bonilla it appears, is looking to provide a decidedly up-scale experience.
The daughter of a Dominican mother and Puerto Rican father, Bonilla has the cred that comes with having grown up in Jersey City and then worked for corporate behemoths like New York Life and Morgan Stanley.
As a child growing up in Lafayette, Bonilla recalls a rougher time in Jersey City. “My mom locked us up as soon as we came home from school.” She went on to graduate from James Ferris High School, the same school her father attended.
With several other dispensaries opening in Jersey City in the next year, including a high-profile operation co-owned by the actor and rapper Ice T, Bonilla understands the challenges. “It’s going to be a competitive market,” she said. However, she plans to draw on her background across the river, explaining, “I can use my experience as a marketer to use technology to my advantage.”
I ask Bonilla what drove her to retail cannabis. Is she a smoker or an entrepreneur? “I would say both … I’ve always been entrepreneurial. I’ve always been a fan of cannabis.”
But cannabis is more than a business for Bonilla, who said she appreciates marijuana’s medicinal properties and believes her store can help people find relief from a society that is “so full of stress and anxiety.”
What, I ask, will distinguish her products from those of other dispensaries? “Ideally we’ll be able to strike some exclusive deals with different vendors,” she told me. She’d also like to host events and parties.
As to the possibility of secondhand smoke wafting into adjoining properties, Bonilla isn’t worried. “We’ll be using top-of-the-line filtration systems. … Even while you’re smoking, ideally you won’t smell the smoke” she says. In addition, she plans to install UV lighting to kill any bacteria in the air.
In allowing for legal cannabis sales, the state has put a premium on affording opportunities to minorities, women, those who have lived in poor neighborhoods, and those affected adversely by previous marijuana laws. Bonilla says that she “pretty much hit all the boxes.” She is quick to point out, however, that she was never convicted of a marijuana-related offense.
Cannaboutique has committed to supporting three local nonprofits with in-store and online promotions, event hosting, and donated employee labor.
Now, having received approval on September 15 from the Jersey City Cannabis Control Board, Bonilla is off to the Planning Board for building permits and presentations to nearby neighborhood groups. “I live in the area. I will make sure to keep the area nice and friendly to everyone. I’m looking to do this the right way.”