Raekwon the Chef's plans to open a cannabis consumption lounge in downtown Newark just got crushed by a local church's “not in my backyard” campaign.
The Wu-Tang Clan rapper has been working to open a new outlet of his Hashstoria cannabis chain in a historic building in Newark's Four Corners district since the start of this year. The new digs would have combined an adult-use dispensary with a legal consumption lounge that would give patrons a space to legally sample the company’s products. If approved, the Newark location would have been Hashstoria's first venture outside of Oregon, as well as one of New Jersey's first legal cannabis consumption lounges.
At first, it seemed like the new lounge would be a go. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka publicly advocated for the business, arguing that it would be a great addition to the historic district. The city's Landmark and Historic Preservation Commission unanimously approved Hashstoria's application to update the building, and officials agreed that the plans met all of the necessary zoning requirements. With these approvals in the bag, Raekwon only needed to secure a final sign-off from the Newark Central Planning Board.
But when the board held a public hearing about the application, local community members rallied against it. The opposition was led by the Old First Presbyterian Church, which is just across the street from the lounge's proposed location. Leaders of the historic church argued that stoned patrons leaving the lounge would create a public nuisance in their neighborhood. One board member also took offense to the store's plan to feature artwork showing people smoking blunts and holding a bottle of booze.
“I pray that you will put this somewhere else, not in the heart of Newark,” said Rev. Doris Glaspy at the board meeting, according to AllHipHop. “We’re not against people smoking marijuana if they want to. But they can put it somewhere else.”
Josh Sanderlin, Hashstoria's representative at the meeting, promised that the new lounge would follow New Jersey's cannabis consumption regulations to the letter. These regulations require all consumption lounges to be strictly enclosed in well-ventilated indoor or outdoor areas and prohibit customers from smoking weed on the street. Sanderlin argued that these regulations would prevent stoned patrons from disturbing the neighborhood, and even promised to change the artwork that offended the board.
Ultimately, the board sided with the church and voted to deny Hashstoria's application. The company has already promised to take legal action to overturn the board's decision, though. “If the board does not approve [the application] this evening, it goes to court and very quickly gets overturned,” said Hashstoria attorney Kelly Carey, SILive.com reports.