Atlantic City, NJ and its boardwalk in 2011. Credit: Shinya Suzuki / Flickr

Jon Cohn won’t be the first cannabis operator in Atlantic City. He won’t be on the boardwalk. He won’t be in a casino.

But he does have high hopes the budding industry will be the next economic boon in the gambler’s paradise.

“I’ve had that view since 2013,” said Cohn, founder and CEO of Agri-Kind, a cannabis cultivation company currently operating in Pennsylvania. “I spent a lot of time in Amsterdam when I worked for a bank in the Netherlands, and I have always viewed Atlantic City as a mini-Amsterdam.

“Thankfully the Mayor’s office has the same vision. Las Vegas draws so much tourism. A lot of it is casinos, but they say about 40 percent of it comes outside the casino. It’s the same thing here, except you get the water. You can’t replace the waterfront. I just think it makes for a destination location for cannabis.”

During New Jersey’s first round of license awardees, focused on cultivation and processing, the state issued 68 permits total, 50 to cultivators and 18 to processors. Cohn received one of each, giving him a leg up on his competition.

The Botanist, a dispensary brand owned by Columbia Care, currently operates Atlantic City’s only licensed dispensary, for medical card-holders only. The city has barred adult use shops on the boardwalk. There are multiple corner stores branding themselves as holistic options, selling Delta-8, CBD and other typical smoke-shop goods. Another new retail dispensary is hoping to open soon, MPX NJ, but the state has not announced a start date for adult use sales.

Agri-Kind already has municipal approval and the additional approval needed from the Casino Redevelopment Authority. Cohn says he had a letter of intent for commercial space, but it looks like he will have to move on from that property after the deal fell through in the late stages. 

“We have offers on three other properties right now,” said Cohn. “One would support both the cultivation and the processing, about a five-acre space. The other two properties we would have to separate our facilities. We would like to be able to do it all together.”  

A space that size would attract eyes regardless of whether the city becomes a tourist spot for cannabis. Cohn will be prepared to build the facility to allow guests to experience the growing process of the plant.

“When we talked about the facility with the city and how we would build it, they wanted us to do tours,” said Cohn. “We’re excited about it. I think we will see much more regional traffic at first, coming into the city for cannabis. And then you have vacationers and weekenders.

“I think that will help grow some business, not just in cannabis, but bring money to the town overall.”

Cohn says other conversations with Atlantic City officials have targeted the city’s convention center as a gathering place for the cannabis industry and want to support events where attendees can consume products. 

The boardwalk may remain off limits, but Cohn and Agri-Kind see various expansion possibilities as New Jersey moves further into the process of adult use legalization and normalization.

“Longer term, we plan on opening a dispensary and a cafe here,” said Cohn. “We would like to have a large lounge. We had earmarked Atlantic City for this quite a while ago. 

“We won’t be the first, but there is just so much potential here we feel is untapped.”