As Acreage Holdings, one of the nation’s largest cannabis cultivation, retail and real estate companies, enters the New Jersey market, it’s apparent the firm wants to break into the Garden State in a big way — and is making deals and hiring influential players.
Weeks after it was announced the former Speaker of the House John Boehner and former Mass. Gov. William Weld were joining its board, a spokesman for Acreage Holdings told NJ Advance Media it’s retained the services of Philip Norcross’ lobbying firm, Optimus Partners, for “consulting services.”
Philip Norcross is the chairman of Optimus Partners, CEO of the law firm of Parker McCay, and a trustee of Cooper Health System.
His brother, George Norcross, is the executive chairman of the insurance firm of Connor Strong & Buckelew, chairman of the board of trustees of Cooper Health System and Cooper University Hospital, and a longtime Democratic power broker in south Jersey politics. Donald Norcross, another brother, is New Jersey’s congressman for the 1st District.
The firm also led by Jeff Michaels, a former chief of state to Republican Gov. Donald DiFrancesco. Norcross and Michaels co-founded the firm eight years ago.
Optimus ranked in the top 10 in receipts taken in by lobbying firms last year, taking in more than $2 million, according to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.
A message left with Optimus Partners Friday hasn’t been returned.
On Thursday, Acreage announced it was partnering with Compassionate Care Foundation of Egg Harbor Township to open and manage a 100,000-square-foot growing site in Gloucester County. The dispensary and Acreage Holdings have signed a letter of intent to enter into a long-term management contract to assist with future expansion and operations.
David Knowlton, the dispensary’s founder and president, said Compassionate Care Foundation is also seeking permission from the state Health Department to open dispensaries in Atlantic City, Cherry Hill and Moorestown.
It is standard practice for companies looking to obtain state licenses to hire a lobbying firm.
One longtime Trenton insider noted that hiring this well-connected lobbying firm could give Acreage a leg up, unless the already rocky relationship between Murphy and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, who is backed by George Norcross, worsens.
A source in the cannabis industry said he was concerned about well-moneyed operations like Acreage Holdings and PalliaTech — which, through its Curaleaf brand has partnered with the dispensary in Bellmawr — may constrain the number of participants in the market.
Acreage Holdings, which is now operating in 12 states, arrives in New Jersey as Gov. Phil Murphy ordered a dramatic expansion of the state medicinal marijuana program.
Murphy won election in November on a platform to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, but those plans have stalled amid resistance from the state Legislature, including members of his own party.
Trenton insiders say bad blood between Murphy and Sweeney also contributed to the stall, but more conversations are happening now between legislators and new legislation is starting to come together.
Acreage Holdings was founded in 2014 under the name High Street Capital Partners. The company currently operates dispensaries and cultivation sites, manufactures edible products under its Dixie Brands holdings, and acquires and manages real estate holdings through its Kalyx Development division.