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An effort is underway to make Atlantic City a premier cannabis convention destination. There is talk of a cannabis campus that will grow, cultivate, and sell various forms of marijuana. Is this a gamble? Only time will tell.

Andrea Doyle

All one has to do is stroll the aisles of MJBizCon, a top U.S. cannabis trade show, to understand the depth of the business opportunity the cannabis industry provides. More than 1,200 exhibiting companies and 27,000 attendees gathered at the Las Vegas Convention Center in October 2021. 

The total economic impact from cannabis sales in 2022 is expected to reach $99 billion, up more than 20 percent from 2021, eventually hitting $155 billion in 2026, according to MJBiz Factbook. 

Stu Zakim, president of Bridge Strategic Communications and a member of the Marijuana Business Association, compares the industry to the dot.com boom. 

The revenue cannabis sales inject into a local economy can help on many levels, and many destinations are vying for the title of cannabis convention capital.

Atlantic City is eyeing that moniker. From its casinos to the historic Boardwalk to a sprawling beach, Atlantic City has many ingredients to host successful events. Its conference space is plentiful, from Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center to the Atlantic City Convention Center. “It can be a wildly successful destination to host cannabis conventions,” said Zakim.

One downfall, though, is that casinos are part of a federal ban on cannabis, and dispensaries will not be permitted in any of them. 

“The legalization of cannabis in the State of New Jersey opened a new vertical market for meetings and conventions in Atlantic City. We see cannabis as a growing industry, and it will have a significant increase on the overall economic impact of the destination,” said Meet AC’s President and CEO, Larry Sieg.

Atlantic City is only 48 blocks long, and Rob Mejia, adjunct professor, at Stockton University, where he teaches in the Cannabis Studies Department and is a volunteer member of the Atlantic City Cannabis Commission, envisions one day having a cannabis campus. 

“There will be cultivators, processing areas, dispensaries, delivery warehouses, and distribution centers, and most will end up in the same place. There will be a site where visitors can see the plants grow, an edible factory, and more. Interest is at such a high level, and these experiences coincide with this interest,” said Mejia. “We are working on licenses, catering permits, and consumption lounges. In addition, we are planning a 4-20 and 4-21 event that will include concerts and education.”

Atlantic City is taking applications for dispensaries now. “My estimate is it will be about 18 to 24 months before the first wave opens,” said Mejia. “With gaming, restaurants, entertainment, musical events, and 17,000 hotel rooms, Atlantic City is a great place for people who want to experience cannabis to visit. I also think we will see some major conventions in Atlantic City in this space.”

That prediction is coming to fruition. The annual New Jersey Cannabis Convention (NECANN) is being held September 9-10 at the Atlantic City Convention Center. 

“Cannabis hospitality and tourism is a major driver of revitalizing communities. There is a pent-up demand for travel and experiences, and one of the drivers is cannabis,” said Mejia. “We are seeing more states like California embrace cannabis tours with wine and weed tours, 420 Olympics, how to roll sushi and joints classes, and high dining experiences.”

The city can look to Colorado for guidance as cannabis growing tours, marijuana pairing dinners, and cocktail functions featuring budtenders are all the rage. Denver is even home to the International Church of Cannabis, led by Elevationists who believe the herb helps become the best version of one’s self. 

Cannabis And Events

As cannabis becomes legal in an increasing number of states, its use at events will increase. “Immersive Van Gogh” was an extremely popular digital presentation of the artist’s paintings in New York last year. The Happy Munkey, a cannabis lifestyle brand, partnered with the event to put on night-time gatherings that included cannabis. Approximately $100,000 worth of tickets were sold, and attendees had a confined outdoor space where they could smoke. 

Zakim, who helps The Happy Munkey with its public relations efforts, planned another event to give the company exposure on the unofficial cannabis holiday of 4/20, held in Bobby Van’s Steakhouse across the street from the New York Stock Exchange.

It is no surprise that a cannabis event was held in a highbrow restaurant like Bobby Van’s. According to MMGY Travel Intelligence’s recent study, nearly six in 10 think recreational use of cannabis is less harmful than the use of alcohol. The study also reports that interest in specific cannabis-related activities varies by generational cohort. For example, spa treatments are the second most popular activity for Millennials/GenZers, followed by infused edibles or drinks and a tour of a cannabis farm. The second most popular activity for Baby Boomers is the ability to sample cannabis in a safe environment.