First of two parts about companies seeking to get licenses to operate medical marijuana dispensaries in New Jersey.
The Vande Vredes have made it their point to stay on the cutting edge of agriculture.
The flower farming family, whose patriarch moved to America from Holland 50 years ago to sell mums to the masses, entered the hydroponic food space a decade ago to capitalize on the soon-to-be-trendy local foods movement.
They then ventured into cannabis six years ago in California when third-generation family members saw legalized marijuana as the next frontier.
Now one of the brothers, Kenneth Vande Vrede, wants to capitalize on the movement to legalize adult-use cannabis in New Jersey.
If it receives one of the six new licenses to be awarded by the New Jersey Department of Health’s medicinal marijuana program, Vande Vrede said his dispensary would employ 25 to 35 people and become an arm of his company HillviewMed.
Vande Vrede has his sights set on Paterson for the dispensary. His family’s connection to the city dates back to when his grandfather settled in Pequannock. As soon as fruit was cropping up at the farm, his grandfather was selling tomatoes to markets in town.
“I think economic development in Paterson is going to be huge in the future,” said Vande Vrede. “I want to bring much-needed jobs to Paterson, and we want to make a big push to employ Paterson residents to our dispensary.”
More recently, the farm has donated vegetable seedlings and fresh greens to the local food bank. The connection has fostered good relationships with community leaders, Vande Vrede said, which makes Paterson an obvious choice for HillviewMed’s dispensary.
Paterson is New Jersey’s third-largest city. It’s also its fifth-poorest. Vande Vrede wants HillviewMed to play a role in its rejuvenation.
“We chose Paterson to build a very diverse team, not only us as a company but as an industry,” Vande Vrede said, noting the company already employs women, minorities and veterans. “Also, we have full support of Mayor Andre [Sayegh] and we have site control — full site control at both locations.”
Cultivation and processing facilities would be situated on the family farms in Pequannock and Belvidere, he said.
If HillviewMed is granted a dispensary license, Vande Vrede said, “we’re going to look at bringing consistent medicine to the market quickly.”
“At that point, we’ll start narrowing in with R&D on certain strains for different ailments compared to what data we’re getting out of the Board of Health and from the patients about what the most used are,” he continued. “It’s a whole R&D process. My goal is to grow strains for a particular ailment.”
According to HillviewMed’s website, the most common disorders for which medicinal marijuana is needed are PTSD (27.9 percent), chronic pain (11.3 percent) and anxiety (8.6 percent).
Vande Vrede’s knows the value of medicinal cannabis firsthand. He’s personally witnessed its effects on his father-in-law and brother, who have been stricken by Stage 3 lung cancer and a seizure disorder, respectively.
“As [my father-in-law] went through chemo and radiation, he was using CBD and CBD/THC oil,” he said, referring to cannabidiol, a cannabis compound, and tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis. “It helped him keep weight on by increasing his appetite. He didn’t miss a day of work.
“Seven months after starting treatment, he was cleared by the doctor as cancer-free. I think cannabis helped him heal his body and eat while he was going through it to replenish his body.”
According to Vande Vrede, the landlord for the property in Paterson that would be the site of the company’s dispensary is looking forward to its arrival. That wasn’t always the case.
“We found another location in Paterson and the landlord was all supportive, and then two weeks later he said he wasn’t interested,” he said. Even though Vande Vrede was up front about what kind of business he was pursuing, he said, “I think they just didn’t want to be in the cannabis space.”
Cannabis industry hopefuls have to get used to hearing “no.” Beyond the apprehensive landlord that backed off, Vande Vrede was turned down by five banks before one agreed to let HillviewMed do business with them.
He didn’t have a hard time wrangling everyone, though. As long-standing members of the community in Pequannock and Belvidere, achieving zoning approval for the company’s cultivation and manufacturing facilities — together totaling approximately 150 acres — wasn’t as hard as it could have been.
The properties were both zoned as the law requires, more than 1,000 feet from a school, and “owning these properties for so long and being embedded in the community is what allowed us to [quickly get approval],” he said.
Those properties also offer an advantage Vande Vrede said he thinks few other applicants can boast — the ability to scale quickly.
HillviewMed has local zoning approval to expand nine acres on the Pequannock property and up to 50 on the Belvidere property.
The build-out requires the company to retrofit old greenhouses and build new ones that will cost an estimated $4 million to $5 million.
Vande Vrede’s estimate for a complete build-out is between $6 million and $10 million. Funding is coming from himself, his family and the network of investors he connected with during his time in California’s green market.
“As the market grows and the patients increase, we can expand half-acre at a time, an acre at a time or 10 acres at a time. I think we’re one of the few applicants that can scale this quick,” he said.