A California company is planning to open what it's billing as six medical marijuana "superstores" in New Jersey, with the first opening sometime this summer.
Sanjeev and Parita Patel, a Union couple, have purchased the exclusive franchise rights for New Jersey from WeGrow, which sells hydroponic supplies.
The company, which bills itself as "The First Honest Hydro Store," has headquarters in Oakland, Calif., and stores in Sacramento, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.
New Jersey has placed tight controls on the growth and distribution of the substance, with only six nonprofit organizations able to participate. However, Sanjeev Patel expects to have enough customers, with much of the business coming from those who are growing plants other than marijuana hydroponically.
"Aside from just medical marijuana, there's urban agriculture that has really piqued our interest," he said.
Patel said he is not necessarily concerned about the restrictions the state has placed on medical marijuana. He said the stores will not be able to talk to customers other than the licensed dispensaries about marijuana.
"This was an entrepreneurial venture that my wife and I entered into, but we're interested in the future of the hydroponic industry as a whole," he said, adding that he believes medical marijuana will help those with terminal illnesses.
The state program has identified the six nonprofit alternative treatment centers, which are in various stages of identifying locations and applying for permits, according to state Department of Health and Senior Services officials.
On April 16, the department issued a permit to Greenleaf Compassion Center to begin growing the marijuana, but the organization still must receive a permit to dispense the substance. Home growing is not authorized under the program, state officials said.
Sanjeev Patel said they had a long-term interest in medical marijuana and became interested in being a WeGrow franchisee after seeing a segment on the TV channel HDNet about the company.
While the Patels are planning six stores in the near term, they purchased the rights for as many as 18, he said.
They haven't determined the locations for the stores, although they do plan to locate them near dispensaries, Patel said. He expects the first store to be centrally located, with good transportation access. The planned opening will occur this summer, according to the company's announcement.
The Patel family has experience as hotel franchise operators, including two Crown Plazas, two Clarions, a Days Inn and a Holiday Inn, as well as independent hotels in Ohio and India. Their only New Jersey hotel is the Crown Plaza in Cherry Hill. Parita Patel is a real estate attorney.
Sanjeev Patel said he was excited about the state's medical marijuana program, but that the growth in hydroponic farming has opened more opportunities. He noted that a 100,000-square-foot greenhouse has been planned in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The products sold at the stores include hydroponic lighting, filtration systems, trays and pots, as well as books. It also hosts classes.