NJ marijuana black market: 13 arrested in police bust of Jersey City 'pop-up' event – Asbury Park Press
UPDATE: Police recover $500,000 of marijuana, including 35 pounds of raw cannabis, from Jersey City black market marijuana pop-up
JERSEY CITY — Police in Jersey City last week raided a black market marijuana “pop-up” event — of the sort chronicled in a recent USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey report — described by police as a literal “market” where weed was sold in various forms.
At least 13 people were arrested late April 25 and April 26 on various marijuana charges, stretching from possession of under 50 grams of pot to possession of over 50 grams with the intent to distribute, according to municipal court records.
EXPERT OPINION: What do NJ’s marijuana dealers think about legal weed?
The arrests, which have not been publicly announced by police or city officials, were all listed under the same Jersey City police case number, which the Network confirmed is linked to the same black market marijuana pop-up.
In March, the Network took readers inside a similar marijuana pop-up near Trenton where, as in Jersey City, the purveyors publicized the event on social media, including descriptions of particular strains of illegal weed and various cannabis-infused products. Check out photos of what as available in a gallery at the top of the page.
That pop-up operated just 600 feet from police headquarters.
SEE FOR YOURSELF: I spent a night in New Jersey’s marijuana black market — and business is booming.
Last week’s crackdown, which came amid ongoing efforts in New Jersey to legalize weed, was an emphatic statement by the authorities that the drug remains every bit illegal in the Garden State, save for the state’s medical marijuana program.
In an affidavit of probable cause against 21-year-old Francis Villa Gil, one of the alleged marijuana dealers at the event, Jersey City Police Officer Alber Gaguski wrote that the pop-up was held after-hours at a vacant garage near the McGinley Square neighborhood of the city.
“The setup of the garage was structured as a market with different tables providing different assortments of marijuana goods ranging from baked goods, marijuana vape devices, marijuana edibles, raw marijuana, marijuana candies and snacks,” Gaguski wrote in his report.
“We were able to identify several attendees who were in possession of large amounts of cash and through further investigation we believed were involved in the planning, promotion and distribution of the (controlled dangerous substances),” he wrote.
NJ Weedman sold marijuana outside the statehouse in Trenton ahead of the possible vote on legalization. The vote ultimately got canceled. Thomas P. Costello , Asbury Park Press
In another affidavit, Officer Carlos Vasquez said the site was “heavy in foot traffic and (officers) smelled a very strong odor of burnt marijuana emanating from that location.”
Some of the arrests occurred when police conducted motor vehicle stops of alleged attendees shortly after leaving the pop-up, the affidavits said.
Of the 13 people arrested, seven were charged with possession of over 50 grams of marijuana and possession of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school. Hudson Catholic High School is less than a half-mile from the black market pop-up location. The seven are:
- Frank Daddato
- Jose Feliciano
- Mwata K. Fields
- Maximilian Kelly
- Terrell Mann
- Isaac Mendoza
- Francis Villa Gil
All but Mendoza were charged with marijuana possession within 500 feet of a public park — basketball courts are located near the mechanic garage. Another woman, Kelsey Montalvo, was charged with cocaine possession.
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Under New Jersey state law, possession of over 1 ounce of marijuana with the intent to distribute comes with a minimum three-year prison sentence.
The suspects’ personal information, including ages and addresses, were not included in the state municipal court database. It could not immediately be learned if they were represented by legal counsel.
Five other alleged black market pop-up attendees were charged with possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana:
- Noura Elbassiouny
- Hadeer Elkholy
- Manuel Morales
- Aaron Rivera
- Roman Rosario
Possession of 50 grams or less of marijuana is a disorderly person’s offense, with a maximum six-month prison term.
“The entire black market is bugging right now,” one marijuana dealer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to their illicit dealings, told the Network. The dealer, who was not at the Jersey City event, said news of the bust spread like wildfire throughout the black market marijuana community.
“Nobody knows what to do,” the source said.
What do you think about this raid? Should New Jersey stop going after marijuana users while the state tries to legalize weed? Join “Let’s Talk About Marijuana,” our Facebook group dedicated to all things legal weed.
On Wednesday, the neighborhood around the garage was quiet. The business, listed as Diesel Power & Equipment, has seemingly closed up shop, with a visible but tattered realty sign posted above the front door. The shop’s steel shutters were tagged with graffiti reading “party gunz” and a makeshift “no parking” warning.
But on April 25, the seemingly empty garage was the site of a “blunts n’ beers” event, complete with a “thirsty Thursday special” of $5 for admission and $5 for beers, shots or other drinks, according to a flyer of the event obtained by the Network.
The USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey’s exclusive report on the practice of black market marijuana “pop-up” events has become a point of concern among both marijuana legalization advocates, who say legal weed would eat into the black market, and opponents, who cited the words of marijuana dealers saying they “aren’t going anywhere” if New Jersey legalizes weed.
The pop-up events stood in stark contrast to the pricey business networking luncheons and seminars catered to the legal weed industry, where mostly white business executives in designer suits discuss cannabis in strictly theoretical terms.
One such networking event was held at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark and have become regular occurrences throughout the state.
MORE: Legal weed lessons from the New Jersey Cannabis Symposium
But at the black market event covered by the Network, huge jars of marijuana buds, a variety of edibles and even cannabis-infused liquor were on display. Customer were encouraged to sample the wares before they cashed out, often via PayPal, Venmo or Cash App.
The events are organized and promoted entirely via social media, primarily through Instagram. And they are run in almost brazen defiance of police: Many pop-ups sold tickets online, emailing an address to ticketholders a few hours before the event.
The Jersey City event was no exception, one of 12 that organizer “908 Buds” sold tickets for through Eventbrite, a popular online ticketing site.
They’re here, they’re advertised and they have everything. NJ pot dealers say the black market isn’t going anywhere, even if NJ marijuana legalization happens. Mike Davis, @byMikeDavis
“The black market has adapted and become more customer-friendly,” Sayreville Police Chief John Zebrowski, a vice president of the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police, told the Network in March. “They’ll always have different ways to survive.”
The raid comes as Gov. Phil Murphy and legislators continue to debate how, when and if New Jersey will become the 11th state to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
The most recent version of the legal weed bill would tax the drug at a flat rate of $42 per ounce and regulate a new cannabis industry through the creation of a new Cannabis Control Commission.
The bill cleared committee in March, but the state Senate could not whip together enough votes to pass the measure despite the Assembly having enough votes to pass it.
RELATED: Gov. Phil Murphy sets deadline on legal weed
Ed Forchion, the longtime marijuana legalization activist known as “NJ Weedman,” on Wednesday encouraged the alleged marijuana dealers arrested last week to “fight the case all the way to trial.
“The public has rejected marijuana criminalization but obviously the police in Jersey City have refused to surrender. But I predict the jury will reject the police and the prosecutors,” Forchion said. “No one will want to put someone in a cage for doing what” the state is trying to legalize.
The Asbury Park Press and APP.com gives you new perspectives and deep dives on NJ marijuana legalization — including the black market. We need your help to keep continue off-the-beaten-track stories like this, so please consider a digital subscription.
This article originally appeared here in https://www.app.com/story/news/local/new-jersey/marijuana/2019/05/02/new-jersey-marijuana-legalization-legal-weed-vote-black-market-pop-up/3642564002/