Legal weed: NJ marijuana farm gets ready for first harvest

Jessie Gomez

| Morristown Daily Record

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Cannabis farm prepares for first harvest in New Jersey

TerrAscend NJ prepares for it’s first harvest from the Boonton Twp. farm after New Jersey votes to legalize marijuana on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020.

Inside a greenhouse on a 16-acre farm near the Rockaway River in Boonton Township, thousands of tall, sticky pungent plants are getting ready to yield nearly 2,000 pounds of marijuana — for medical and soon recreational users.

Cultivation technicians wear hairnets and gloves as they work on thousands of marijuana plants. They remove leaves at the bottom of young crops to allow for airflow as the plants mature. It’s harvest season for the North American cannabis producer TerrAscend and they’re getting ready for what they predict will be a “fast-growing recreational market.”

On Tuesday, New Jersey became the 12th state to legalize recreational marijuana with support from 67% of voters. The measure allows for possession, sale and use of marijuana by adults 21 and older.

“We’ve been building for the state medical program. We’re growing facilities, our manufacturing facilities, for gummies, tinctures and working up stores,” said TerrAscend Chief Executive Officer Jason Ackerman. “The preparation for recreational is no different, but I think recreational is going to accelerate.”

On the former Hamilton Farms, TerrAscend’s first crop is reserved for its medical dispensary in Phillipsburg set to open at the end of November. Their core manufacturing operation resides on the Boonton Township site and is home to a 37,000-square-foot greenhouse where budding marijuana plants range in size and color.

Inside, cultivation manager Nick D’Amelio inspects each row of lime-green and red-hue plants to make sure they receive enough sunlight. At the far end of the greenhouse, some plants, including the Cherry Garcia, require dry heat. Buds sprout under the large lamps that keep them hot and dry.

“There are so many shapes and sizes and flavors. It’s a really beautiful crop,” Ackerman said.

The TerrAscend property, which sits in the Rockaway Valley near Tourne County Park, is one of 12 alternative treatment centers permitted to grow marijuana in the state. Ackerman said the company was hoping voters would approve the legal use of recreational marijuana in the state, but expects a regulatory framework for users and operators will take a couple of months. He predicts the public might be able to purchase recreational products within the next seven to eight months and recreational users should expect to buy their products sometime next year.

The company will also expand dispensaries across the North Jersey area with two new sites opening early next year near the New York City border. TerrAscend owns a Pennsylvania cultivation facility and expects to be a major player in the state’s industry with sales stemming from their Boonton Township facility and new dispensary in Phillipsburg. According to the company’s preliminary financial results for its third quarter, the company saw $39 million in net sales, $51 million CAD as the company calculates.

“We’re moving as fast as we can to supply a very, very undersupplied market in comparison to other places,” Ackerman said.

With over half of New Jerseyans supporting legal weed, not all residents are happy with the company. TerrAscend received pushback from Boonton Township residents who said more than 2,000 students attended schools within a 3.2-mile radius of the farm. But the state cleared its operations in January and received approval from the New Jersey Department of Health to begin growing medical marijuana. They purchased the Boonton Township property in 2019 and obtained township permits following public hearings in the spring.

Following community pushback, the company reserved more than an acre of property to grow fruit and vegetables that are donated to the Loaves & Fishes food pantry in Boonton. More than 20 bushels of produce have been donated to date.

“A lot of people are not doing it just to get high. A lot of others are looking for relief for anxiety or sleep issues or other things to take the edge off,” Ackerman said.

With a new customer base on the way, the company hopes to educate patients and future customers about multiple ways to consume the plant. They hope current and future customers feel comfortable when they enter their stores.

They focus on training their “budtenders” or sales team on the benefits and uses of their products to match each item with a customer or patient’s need. A large part of the business is helping people figure out what they need, Ackerman said. Their product offerings range from the traditional bud to edibles including gummies, tinctures, mints among others.

More: Marijuana farmer in Boonton Twp. will produce first harvest in fall

Election: New Jersey to legalize marijuana: Voters overwhelmingly pass legal weed ballot question

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“There’s a lot of stigmatism to the product,” Ackerman said. “Most importantly, if you don’t know how to consume properly you could take more than you should and I think as people enter the marketplace, they should make sure what’s right for them.”

The company expects a wide range of customers including first-time users and others interested in the plant’s recreational benefits. They market their stores as an upscale experience with bright lighting and attractive decor. TerrAscend is also looking to build-out an online-order and home-delivery model across the region for medical users and eventually all users throughout the state.

In the meantime, New Jersey hopefuls looking for marijuana can obtain medical cards to purchase.

“People shouldn’t run out and buy. We have to have permission for the right stuff. Look more toward the middle of next year,” Ackerman said. “You can buy medically, so go get your medical cards.”

Jessie Gomez is a local reporter for and For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jessiereport

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