High State Area: Stigma around cannabis goes up in smoke at Harmony Dispensary

Mike Montone
February 12, 2019 - 1:30 pm
Cannabis Harmony Dispensary

Harmony Dispensary


SECAUCUS, N.J. (1010 WINS) – New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy ran on a promise to legalize recreational marijuana in the state within his first 100 days in office.

Murphy’s first hundred days have come and gone, and recreational cannabis still isn’t legal in Jersey, but at Harmony – a medical marijuana dispensary in Secaucus – the staff is committed to achieving one of the goals behind the legalization movement; erasing the stigma surrounding cannabis use.

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“The stigma is, you can take marijuana if you’re gonna die, and then it’s okay,” CEO Shaya Broadchandel explained.

At Harmony eliminating that stigma starts with making the customer comfortable.

WEB EXTRA: Curious about legal pot in the Garden State? Checkout our High State Area series and get up to speed

For many people, the thought of buying marijuana may conjure images of discreet street corner handoffs, or shady characters, zip lock bags, and musty frat houses, but at Harmony the staff works to provide a boutique shopping experience.

Customers pass through a locked door into a room lined with glass cases displaying high-end vaporizers and Harmony’s home grown cannabis strains.

Tropical house and light hip hop music flowed from speakers as manager Nico explained that the experience is designed to put new users at ease with cannabis.

“It’s comfortable, it’s not Joe Schmo’s head shop,” he said.

Strawberry OG Harmony Dispensary
Harmony Dispensary

Nico curates the facility's retail space where branded strains of cannabis entice cardholders with sweet monikers; 'Bubby's Cookies' and 'Strawberry OG' among others.

Before making a purchase, first time users are given a one on one consultation that allows the staff to zero in on a strain that will meet their needs. Identification and prescriptions are also checked before customers are allowed to buy any of Harmony's products.

For those who possess a prescription, buying medical pot in New Jersey is far from a free-for-all; the state has placed a 2 oz per customer, per month cap on purchases and in most cases marijuana can only be bought in its flower form -- that means no extracts or edibles.


Bubby's Cookies Harmony Dispensary
Harmony Dispensary

Getting access to medical marijuana in New Jersey hasn’t always been a comfortable experience. Author and cannabis alchemist Warren Bobrow says he initially struggled to get a prescription, and was directed instead to use eye drops for his glaucoma.

“My first ophthalmologist said I was crazy” Bobrow said, “He was from a different mindset.”

But Bobrow says legal cannabis means users are getting a much safer product.

“The testing component is the most important part,” he said, “That’s the only way people are going to trust that things are not going to get them sick.”

He says it’s about showing users a ‘quantifiable result.’

“What I buy from my bartender friend probably hasn’t been tested, do I really want to put that in my body? Probably not,” he explained.

Broadchanel says things have gotten better under the Murphy administration.

“The department of health commissioner is going around educating doctors and medical communities about trying medical marijuana,” he said.

He also emphasized that users should not be looking to get as high as possible.

“You don’t go buying a glass of wine saying, 'I want the highest alcohol content possible.' That’s not what you should be chasing,” he said.

With a dispensary in town, and legalization seemingly on the horizon officials in Secaucus still have some hangups about cannabis. The town council voted unanimously to ban recreational sales in July, even though it had yet to be legalized by the state.

"We're trying to get a jump on this before Gov. Murphy adopts (recreational) marijuana. And because Secaucus has a medical marijuana facility already, we don't want that to turn into a recreational marijuana facility," Mayor Mike Gonnelli said at the time.

Secaucus isn’t the only town to pass such a measure; Elmwood Park, Saddle Brook, Toms River, Old Bridge, Point Pleasant, and dozens of others around the state have already voted to ban recreational pot shops.

“Not everyone is going to agree with what you do,” Bobrow said, “Cannabis in New Jersey is stigmatized in conservative communities.”

In Elmwood Park, officials say it comes down to protecting kids.

“Elmwood Park is a small town with five schools all within walking distance of our commercial districts,” Elmwood Park Councilwoman Maggie Giandomenico said. “In order to protect the vulnerability of our children and the health and welfare of all of our residents, it was our responsibility as a council to enact a preventive policy in order to preserve the aesthetics of our hometown.”

Mayor Frank Caramangna said the problems stemming from legalization simply outweigh the economic benefits.

“With the details of legalization publicly known, the economic benefits of hosting this industry did not outweigh the various risks that came with it,” he said. "My goal was to make an informed decision based on facts, not hysteria or politics.”

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While Harmony’s focus is on serving medical cannabis users, they would like to dip into an eventual recreational market if town officials would allow it. With that in mind, Broadchandel says he believes change is on the horizon.

“I think that’s the initial reaction, but once the bill passes I believe a lot of towns will reconsider,” he said.

Some towns have been more receptive to legal pot. Asbury Park and Jersey City have both said that they will welcome retail marijuana stores.

“If somebody wants to sit in their house and smoke a bong or joint, I have no problem with abiding by the state law.” Asbury Park Mayor John Moor said last year. “Maybe Asbury Park is the California of the East Coast, where we start things and people follow.”

While there hasn't been much outward movement on a marijuana law in New Jersey in 2019, sources say a new bill could be introduced shortly.