While new Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam says legal marijuana could help boost New Jersey’s economy and increase tourism — especially along the Boardwalk — the legislative barrier between gaming and weed in Las Vegas casinos could cause Gilliam to reconsider his vision for economic revitalization.
Four decades ago, Atlantic City, New Jersey, bet its economic future on casino gambling. But while gaming remains the city’s leading industry, a handful of casino closures have put hundreds of people out of work and done a number on the city’s tax base.
Among the ideas to improve the city’s fiscal fortunes is the planned construction of a college campus in the city, as well as the renovation of one shuttered casino and a new owner for another. And if Gilliam and other legalization advocates get their way, pot could also play a key role in the area’s resurgence.
As WHYY reports, the New Jersey Assembly recently held its first meeting to discuss whether marijuana should be legalized and sold in retail shops across the Garden State. While many towns have already begun debating whether to ban dispensaries, some, like Atlantic City, view cannabis as a way to boost their economies.
One of New Jersey biggest legalization advocates, Gilliam says he would like to see “adult entertainment districts” in Atlantic City, where visitors could enjoy restaurants, bars, spas, and marijuana.
“I don’t have the appetite to just be a pusher of the product. I don’t want people to think that they should just come here, buy it and leave,” Gilliam told WHYY. “I want it to be…a destination, where folks can come here and enjoy it in a controlled area.”
In an attempt to determine the feasibility of his idea, Gilliam recently visited Las Vegas to see firsthand how that city has mixed legal weed with its casinos and nightlife. And what he found was likely disappointing.
Las Vegas casinos have not embraced legal cannabis in the same way the rest of Nevada has. While recreational pot has been legal in Nevada since last summer, users have been forced to use it in their homes. Nevada’s Gaming Policy Committee has voted to not allow direct relationships between the gaming industry and marijuana distributors, and while Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has signed an executive order requiring the cannabis industry and casino heads to discuss a way that casinos could host pot-themed conventions and trade shows, casinos are concerned that they could be charged with racketeering and/or money laundering due to the fact that cannabis use is still technically a violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act.
As The Fresh Toast explains, pot’s illegal status at the federal level means the vast majority of banks won’t accept cash from canna-businesses for fear of losing their licenses. As a result, employees of cannabis companies convert their cash into chips, gamble a bit, then convert whats leftover into casino checks they can then deposit into a bank. While this practice is legal at the state level, it puts banks at risk for money laundering at the federal level.
As of now, Vegas casinos are prohibited from housing marijuana smoking lounges. Financial deals between companies or marijuana providers are prohibited, as well. And while casinos can host conferences or conventions where members of the cannabis industry discuss business, companies are prohibited from bringing any cannabis products to those events.
Despite what he learned during his visit to Las Vegas, Gilliam appears to be committed to the idea of creating pot-friendly areas in Atlantic City. Before that can even happen, however, New Jersey first needs to decide if it will even allow recreational marijuana.
The odds are it could be awhile before that happens.
Stay tuned to the Sugar Leaf for updates.