Atlantic City bets on legal NJ weed to boost tourism and attract conventions

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Casinos + Cannabis perfect together?

Atlantic City is taking a leap of faith and betting on weed to boost tourism and become the East Coast’s convention mecca.

But because casinos are federally regulated and subject to the federal weed ban, cannabis businesses cannot be located in any of the nine gambling halls. The city is therefore looking outside of the casinos, primarily along Atlantic and Pacific avenues, to add weed to diversify its economy.

At least two major cannabis operators — iAnthus and Acreage — already sell medical marijuana in Atlantic City and both are eyeing a slice of the adult weed market. A small cannabis company has just received a micro dispensary license to operate just behind Boardwalk Hall.

iAnthus — which acquired MPX NJ earlier this year and opened a medical marijuana dispensary in Atlantic City on May 5 — wants to expand to sell to the adult market very soon, NJ Advance Media has learned. The same goes for The Botanist, which sells medical weed on the boardwalk and is owned by Acreage.

iAnthus is scheduled to appear before the Atlantic City City Council on Wednesday to state its intention to add adult weed sales to its facilities, according to the council meeting agenda released Friday.

“Our commitment is to improve the overall health of Atlantic City. And when we say ‘health’, we’re referring to physical and mental health, for sure – thanks to the benefits of the cannabis plant,” iAnthus spokesperson Ethan Anderson said in e-mails. emails to Cannabis Insider confirming company goals.

“We also talk about the economic health of Atlantic City, and we see the potential expansion of adult use as having the greatest impact on the economic well-being of the city.”

Anderson ticked off what Atlantic City has to offer: more than 20 million tourists visit each year; housing a full-time population of nearly 38,000 people; nine casinos with 17,000 hotel rooms; an iconic walk.

The MPX NJ site at 157 South New York Avenue opened to medical patients on May 5, two weeks after New Jersey made the historic leap to legalize recreational marijuana for adults.

“We’re excited to be able to eventually expand into the recreational use market,” Anderson said. “We create good jobs, generate local tax revenue and work with established community organizations. »

Anderson said Wednesday’s council appearance is to seek a city council resolution, or letter of support, for his expansion application.

Kashawn McKinley, Atlantic City’s Director of Constituent Services and Special Projects under Mayor Marty Small Sr., confirmed that the two parties are working together to bring adult weed sales to the gambling resort town.

“(iAnthus) is seeking a community hosting agreement to ensure its goals align with those of the city,” McKinley said during an interview with NJ Advance Media at Atlantic City Town Hall. last week.

iAnthus, an alternative treatment center, has acquired MPX NJ to open a medical weed dispensary in Atlantic City on May 5, 2022. It wants to soon begin selling adult recreational weed from the store at 157 South New York Avenue.

The state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission gave approval on April 11 to seven medical dispensaries, also known as alternative treatment centers, to expand into selling adult recreational weed. Adult sales began April 21, including at The Botanist at 100 Century Drive in Egg Harbor Township.

McKinley said iAnthus’ entry into adult recreational weed is tied to Mayor Small’s vision of making Atlantic City the “convention capital of the East Coast.”

“We’re unique because we’re the only city in New Jersey with casinos,” McKinley said. “We have a thriving tourism industry, so why not use that as a springboard and drive this new industry forward and connect it holistically to all of Atlantic City. That’s what we’re trying to do.

“We want the cannabis industry to come in…and together we rise,” he added.

But it’s a tricky situation because options for locating cannabis businesses in Atlantic City are limited since casinos are federally regulated. The city is home to landlords with properties nationwide and globally who must comply with federal cannabis prohibition and cannot house any cannabis business.

The same goes for Tanger Outlets Atlantic City, the outdoor mall that takes up several blocks downtown, and the Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel. Both have owners who are multi-state operators that follow federal law.

But in its favor, Atlantic City is an impact zone — which, under the state’s new cannabis law, gets priority for certain cannabis licenses as well as resources and funding from the Regulatory Commission. cannabis.

The city accepts six cannabis licenses. The state has opened nominations for four of the six. But there’s no cap on micro-licenses like the one Sonraj LLC just won to convert a long-abandoned property along Pacific Avenue behind Boardwalk Hall.

Alternative treatment centers or medical dispensaries, like iAnthus and Acreage — which owns The Botanist location at 1301 Boardwalk — can grow and sell their marijuana (called vertically integrated companies in the industry).

“Casinos and cannabis go hand in hand,” said McKinley, 38, who was born and raised in Atlantic City and lives three blocks from Mayor Small. “With black and brown and minority communities (living) here, statistics show high incarceration rates, (many) single parent households, low education, low income renters. This is an opportunity where we have a new source of tax revenue and we want to use it.

McKinley sees the spread of legalized marijuana the way the game has exploded nationally over the past decade and a half, and why his city needs to get in the game fast.

“Atlantic City is three hours away from 50 million people,” McKinley said. “We have a beautiful beach and a promenade. We have things you can’t find anywhere else. We just want to maximize what we already have.

“We are setting up an experiment. We don’t want you to just come buy your cannabis and go home. We want you to consume it here in a safe environment,” McKinley said. “That’s why a lot of people say they want consumer shows.

“We also want the incidental things…the museums, the cannabis tours, anything you can think of regarding cannabis. We want to make sure we’re prepared and plan ahead…to make this the best cannabis destination.

Kasawn McKinley

Director of Constituency Services Kashawn McKinley, pictured last week at Atlantic City City Hall, said his city is actively recruiting cannabis companies.

iAnthus plans to transition to adult recreational weed sales within the next six months, according to McKinley.

If iAnthus receives support from the City Council, the operator will then go to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority for a usage variance. The CRDA regulates zoning in the tourist district of the city where the iAnthus Medical Dispensary is located.

During a CRC appearance on February 24, McKinley touted cannabis for boosting Atlantic City.

“Cannabis is an entirely new industry that will be governed by conventions,” McKinley told the CRC board. “Atlantic City needs special provisions to capitalize on this market. Stand-alone consumer lounges – both indoors and outdoors – are needed. …Places like Boardwalk Hall, the Convention Center, and Bader Field should be allowed to host major cannabis conventions.

McKinley said iAnthus will have the option to add a consumer lounge to the 157 South New York Avenue site if it is approved to expand into the adult recreational market.

iAnthus said it was on board.

“We are fully committed to doing our part to support Atlantic City’s evolution to become the leading center for cannabis on the East Coast,” Anderson said. “We operate in many municipalities across the country, and we’re impressed with the thoughtfulness of this local group of leaders and…committed to achieving the best results for Atlantic City. The Commission truly sees the opportunity cannabis represents for its constituents, and we agree with them on that vision.

Others are also exploring the resort town to sell mature weed.

On April 19, a former pawnshop at 2415 Pacific Avenue owned by Sonraj LLC obtained zoning approval from the CRDA to become Atlantic City’s first legal retail cannabis store.

Sonraj plans to open a Class 5 micro-dispensary – to be called The Healing Side – on what has long been a vacant property that sits just behind Boardwalk Hall.

The Botanist’s existing 1301 Boardwalk store will continue to be medical-only, as the City Council banned cannabis retail on the Boardwalk last year to keep it family friendly. Undeterred, The Botanist searches for alternative venues around town to sell mature weed.

“While The Botanist in Atlantic City has the ability and desire to sell adult-use cannabis, the city has limited our ability to do adult-use sales at our current location,” said Sharon Ali, Regional General Manager, Mid-Atlantic for Acreage. in an email to Cannabis Insider last week.

“Nevertheless, The Botanist wishes to remain in Atlantic City to continue to serve our medical patients and is currently researching alternative options to help jump-start the adult use market,” Ali said.

iAnthus has made significant progress building its cultivation and manufacturing facility in Pleasantville, and Anderson said it will have an official ribbon cutting for its new Atlantic City medical marijuana dispensary on South New York Avenue on May 25.

“We are committed, and confident that we can continue, to provide patients with access to medical cannabis and to generate tax revenue for the good of the public,” he said. “We hope we will get support and approval to start sales for recreational purposes in the future.”

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Suzette Parmley can be attached to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @SuzParmley

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