In the quest to position Atlantic City, NJ, as a premier cannabis destination along the East Coast, the local Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal faced a recent setback. Their efforts to prevent the opening of a cannabis dispensary mere steps from their convent did not sway city planners. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, Atlantic City's agency overseeing the tourism district's planning, has greenlighted a pair of dispensary projects, one of which will replace a former dry cleaning business close to the sister's residence.

The convent, situated on Mississippi Avenue within this famed hub of entertainment, doubles as a center for educational and sobriety programs—including those aimed at young individuals—and the sisters have voiced substantial concerns. They fear the proximity of the dispensary may invite increased criminal activity and pose risks to individuals struggling with addiction, potentially stalling their recovery journeys.

Sister Joseph Van Munster, no stranger to the impacts of legalized marijuana from her days in the Netherlands, shared her firsthand observations of the substance's legalization at a hearing back in November. Her apprehensions, together with those of her sisters, touched upon existing drug and alcohol challenges within the neighborhood.

Despite these objections, the CRDA sanctioned the dispensary's establishment adjacent to the convent, a move supported by New Jersey law which lacks restrictions against siting dispensaries in the vicinity of religious institutions, unlike the safeguards for schools.

Requests for comments from the convent and the CRDA went unanswered on Monday, according to reports.

This is not the first time Atlantic City's board has given the nod to cannabis enterprises over the protests of religious leaders. Chelsea Baptist Church had similarly objected to a dispensary planned just a block from their location earlier last summer. Their plea went unheeded with the board granting approval to proceed.

Pastor Tom Weer of the Chelsea Baptist Church expressed his disappointment, pointing out the apparent inconsistency in how the board's decisions seemed to favor the areas around casinos while being dismissive about other locations. He recounted how the board's suggestions failed to address the church's real worries over potential drug use and criminal offenses near their grounds.

Board members, enthusiastic about these developments, sent a clear message that the churches would have to adapt to the presence of the dispensaries.

The CRDA has displayed a pattern of green-lighting cannabis-related proposals in Atlantic City. Recent permissions include indoor marijuana farms, a dispensary founded by a woman within a repurposed church, and lounges reminiscent of Amsterdam's famous cannabis cafes.

Mayor Marty Small Sr. and his team, including the city's cannabis czar Kashawn "Kash" McKinley, are committed to fueling the local economy through these ventures. They foresee a future where Atlantic City thrives as a hub for the cannabis industry, promising employment and new investments.

If the current pace of approving these businesses continues, reports suggest Atlantic City is on track to become the state's most densely populated cannabis city per capita.