Atlantic City Mayor, N.J. Lawmakers Are Nevada-Bound For Legal Weed Tour

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A handful of lawmakers and Atlantic City’s mayor are headed to Nevada for a brief “fact-finding” trip next week to learn from another casino-operating state’s experience of launching a marijuana economy seven months ago.

As hopeful entrepreneurs wait for the state Legislature and Gov. Phil Murphy to make good on a promise to legalize cannabis for adults, the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association and Nevada lawmakers coordinated the 2-1/2-day trip to educate eager and curious government officials and business leaders.

Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam said he is paying out of his own pocket for the trip because he believes legal weed could “jump-start” the city’s volatile economy.

“The key for me is to get more knowledge on how they rolled out the process and understand the pros and cons,” Gilliam said. “They have gaming like we do, so I want to figure out how those things coexist, and figure out to make it work for Atlantic City.”

Gilliam said he said he’s informally spoken to the governor about allowing the seaside resort community to permit sales and consumption under a temporary or pilot program.

“He was very open to it, although he did not give any commitment,” Gilliam said.

In a Jan. 17 letter, Nevada Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson outlined an itinerary would include a visit to a cannabis production facility, a retail shop, and meetings with state and Las Vegas officials to discuss “developing regulations and a taxation scheme, business investment, licensing, public safety considerations and marijuana-related criminal justice reforms.

The trip would run from Wednesday night to Friday late afternoon, the letter said.

Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, the prime sponsor of the marijuana legalization bill who organized two trips to witness Colorado’s legal program, said he expects to attend the trip. He wishes more of his colleagues were going.

“It’s a fact-finding mission from my perspective and another opportunity for legislators to learn,” Scutari said.

A significant number of lawmakers from both parties have expressed discomfort or disapproval for legalizing marijuana.

Garden State lawmakers expected to take the trip include Scutari; Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly D-Passaic; Assemblywoman Annette Quijano D-Union; and Sen. Declan Scanlon R-Monmouth or his representative, organizers said.

Business attendees include Andrew Zaleski, CEO of Breakwater Treatment and Wellness medical marijuana dispensary in Cranbury; Paul Josephson, attorney for Cannabis Industry Association; Princeton psychiatrist and founder of Doctors for Cannabis David Nathan; and Hugh O’Beirne and Dara Servis, the association’s president and executive director, according to the trip’s itinerary.