Marijuana dispensaries could replace two defunct Burlington County diners

March 7, 2023 · The Philadelphia Inquirer

The sites of two defunct South Jersey diners may soon go from serving breakfast to bud as cannabis businesses in the Garden State look to give them new life as marijuana dispensaries.

Plans are underway to convert the closed Marlton Diner in Marlton and Mount Laurel’s Sage Diner to cannabis shops, as first reported by the Courier Post.

A firm known as Enlighten Health & Wellness LLC will operate the former Marlton Diner location on Route 70, and NJ Green Care LLC plans to take over the Sage Diner site on Route 73. Enlighten Health & Wellness received approval from the Evesham Township Planning Board for its Marlton site in October. NJ Green Care will seek approval from the Mount Laurel Planning Board for its Sage Diner plan at a public hearing Thursday, according to a board agenda.

Additionally, another business, NAAVI Realty LLC, is seeking approval from the Mount Laurel Planning Board to open a dispensary at a former Denny’s location about a quarter mile from the Sage Diner site, board records show.

Sage Diner closed in 2017 after its former owners, Kostas and Stella Roustas, filed for bankruptcy. Marlton Diner closed last year after a two-decade run.

According to NJ Green Care’s application, the business does not plan to make significant changes to the Sage Diner’s exterior. The Marlton Diner, meanwhile, is slated to be completely remodeled, the Courier Post reported.

Currently, New Jersey is home to 22 medical and recreational cannabis dispensaries, as well as 13 dispensaries that serve only medical marijuana patients. Of states with legal marijuana markets, that gives Jersey the fewest stores per capita, with about 0.3 dispensaries per 100,000 people, according to a 2022 study.

About 70% of New Jersey’s municipalities have opted out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate within their boundaries, according to a 2021 estimate from the New Jersey Herald.

Marlton and Mount Laurel, where the new shops are proposed, however, have opened their doors to the budding cannabis market.

Last month, the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission took steps to allow more growth in the local cannabis industry, removing the cap on the number of businesses it can license to grow marijuana. As of last month, only 17 businesses — six medical and 11 both recreational and medical — have been licensed to grow marijuana in the Garden State.

In December, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority announced a $10 million grant program for developing marijuana businesses. Start-ups can use the grant money on expenses including rent, technical training, and regulatory fees, according to an announcement.

The Cannabis Regulatory Commission reported last week that an estimated 57% of the 1,647 applications it has received over the last two years were for dispensaries and an additional 25% for cultivation licenses. Commission members have previously said that new licenses are being approved, and that New Jersey’s marijuana industry overall could see rapid growth this year. (Full Story)

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