Recreational marijuana sales begin in Montclair without fanfare
The sale of recreational marijuana finally arrived in Montclair on Friday, August 19, with streamlined efficiency, a steady, if not overwhelming, flow of business, and without the fuss that months of debate might have heralded.
At a stained wood reception counter, pressing one of four touchscreens, customers of the Ascend cannabis store on Bloomfield Avenue made their selections. Some went through the process in a flash. Others depended on the expert advice of a team of “dispensary associates” who asked their questions gently.
“What is your favorite mode of consumption? Is it for day or night? Looking for something to help you deal with anxiety? Do you want something that is anti-inflammatory.
Everything seemed normal, just an extension of Ascend’s lifelong business that had long been confined to Montclair to selling medical marijuana. But the transition, which officially began at 10 a.m., took a long time. On Tuesday, August 16, punctuating a summer of intersecting accusations and acrimony between city officials and Ascend, and four months after the state saw its first legalized sale of recreational marijuana, the city council voted to allow the company to move forward.
“Oh yeah, that’s great,” one man said as he left the store, adding a note that he was “annoyed” it took the city so long to turn the idea into reality. The council also voted to license two other companies to sell recreational marijuana (euphemistically referred to as “adult use” in the trade). Competition for these spots is fierce, a city official said.
The day also marked a milestone for Ascend, as 19 states and the District of Columbia legalized recreational sales. Last week, Ascend opened a store in Fort Lee to accompany its outlet in Rochelle Park.
It’s easy to see how the medicinal part of the business translates to the recreational side. Among dozens of options, the touchscreen menu offered customers the choice of Blueberry Select Bites, Strawberry Peach Lozenges, and a Watermelon Zkittles vaporizer.
The Ice Cream Cake Concentrate was described in a blurb as having “calming effects that help relieve pain, sleep, and anxiety” for medical marijuana patients and all consumers . “Ice Cream Cake weed,” read potential buyers, “is great for nighttime use when you have nothing important to do but watch TV and fall asleep.”
Most people leaving the store declined to talk about their experiences. No one agreed to be identified, and some came through the door almost stealthily as if on the lookout for something.
Tom Donaghue was watching this game from the sidewalk and offered his interpretation – that the older the customer, the more temperamental they are, with some even giving aliases to reception and paying cash. Many, he said, may not have tried marijuana in many years.
Donaghue’s perspective comes with an intriguing headline. He represents marijuana dispensary workers as director of the cannabis division of Local 360 of the AFL-CIO United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
“Some people act like they just bought around the corner like it was another time or they’re scared their boss will find out,” he said. “There is no reason for people to worry about it. When it is normalized, it will feel different.
Even anonymously, a few customers enthusiastically endorsed the change at Ascend. With a friend nodding in agreement, a woman looked like a walking advertisement, practically bounding into the store to pick up her order.
“I’ve never used marijuana in my entire life, and I was against it,” she said with a broad smile, now thrilled that recreational sales had come to Montclair. “It changed my life. It’s not for the high. For the first time in my life, I sleep well. I sleep like a baby.