Listen to audio version of this article
PATERSON – Muslim elders in the South Ward community here pushed back hard against the imminent citing of a medical marijuana ‘grow facility’ in their neighborhood operated by Green Thumb Industries Inc. (GTI), a national cannabis consumer packaged goods company.
“I want to say to our mayor, this dispensary is not welcome in our community,” said Imam Mohammad Qatananni, a neighborhood leader (above).
“What I see from the presentation is they want money,” Qatananni added. He directly addressed Mayor Andre Sayegh when he described a “critical issue for our children.”
“You will see children addicted from the contamination of the air in the area,” he said.
Qatananni’s comments followed other skeptical reactions to the presention of former GTI CEO Peter Kadens of Chicago, now a board member of what he described as a multi-billion dollar company, one of six licensed in New Jersey to grow and dispense medical marijuana.
“We’re fortunate to have this entity here because of their professionalism and their track record,” Sayegh told the packed, standing-room-only crowd in the cafeteria of the public school at 90 Delaware Avenue.
“We vetted 24 entities and chose the best one,” the mayor explained.
Kadens presented himself as the first white male entepreneur to ever give a TED Talk on social inequity and injustice. And that is the reason I am here today,” he explained. “We’ve a $3 billion company because we’re active on our communities.”
A hand shot up later.
Does GTI run a union shop?
Kadens answered in the negative.
Audible groans ensued.
Many residents here doubted the beneficial effects of a dispensary in this 6th Ward represented by Councilman Al Abdelaziz, who ran the town hall. But it’s happening, like it or not, on Getty Avenue.
“There will be lot of traffic, loading and unloading 24-7, which is a major issue,” said a self-identified medical doctor. “Diesel machines. Noise. Chemicals in the water.
“The stench that comes out of marijuana,” he added. “All those people re looking forward to being employed but they will be exposed to a higher instance of asthma and lung disease while working in closed spaces.”
Jehad Albibi spoke against it.
Another resident, a Muslim woman, condemned marijuana for impairing the clarity a religious person requires in order to experience contact with God.
“I don’t understand the nuances of every religion,” Kadens said in response. “Irrespective of your religion, if you have a [suffering child] you would want your child to have access to a medicine that alleviated those seizures.”
He pointed out that he has personally routinely witnessed the improved lives of those patients using cannabis who suffer from AIDS, epilepsy and other illness.
Not all the comments were negative, and applause greeted several of Kadens’ answers.
Leo McGuire, former Bergen County sheriff, heads up safety for the company in New Jersey, and he was present in the room in the role of back up for Kadens. Operatives from the BGill Group, doing community outreach in connection with medical marijuana and Paul Josephson, who represents GTI, were also present.
“Not sure at this time,” 3rd Ward Councilman Bill McKoy told InsiderNJ when asked if he supports the facility.
He wants more information.
A pro-development mayor and former ward councilman here, Sayegh said he got to the job he has now in part because he aggressively served the 6th Ward community’s needs, and – with Police Director Jerry Speziale in the room – noted the city’s strong record during his tenure of busting drug pushers. Mike Powell, Paterson’s economic development director, reinforced Kadens’ and the mayor’s core arguments, putting the emphasis on jobs for Patersonians, the rehabilitation of a derelict site where once stood a can factory in this once booming manufacturing center, the third largest city in New Jersey.
“We feel we can really create a pipeline; tax revenue to help the city with its structural deficit,” Powell told the audience, seeing in GTI a chance to galvanize 21st Century manufacturing.
As for the pushback, “There’s a creative tension,” he acknowledged.