The Haines Chamber of Commerce’s marijuana committee decided last week to make recommendations to the assembly regarding the future of pot businesses in the borough. They decided to recommend sticking with the state rules. Just how much the borough will get involved in things like taxes, zoning and enforcement will ultimately be left up to the assembly.
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott signed off on the state’s 127-page draft regulations around marijuana businesses on Friday. But the Alaska Department of Law shot down two sections that the Marijuana Control Board will have to resolve. One issue involves national, criminal background checks, which is expected to be rectified in the Legislature. The second discrepancy makes testing pot, especially in rural communities, problematic. Testing equipment, which measures potency and checks for impurities, is expensive. And transporting marijuana by air to a testing facility is not allowed.
The Marijuana Control Board’s regulations skirted the issue by accepting alternative means of testing if “geographic location and transportation limitations” would make it otherwise impossible. But, according to a release from Cynthia Franklin, the director of the state’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, the Department of Law nixed the language because it doesn’t offer details regarding what constitutes a geographic location or transportation limitation.
Franklin said the department considered the board’s compromise risky because it could encourage a prospective marijuana establishment to move to a place that would allow them to cut testing corners. The matter is still up in the air.
In Haines, the discussion around marijuana businesses hasn’t gotten past the Chamber’s pot committee. Last week, the group decided that the state’s rules around cultivation, retail outlets, testing and product manufacturing were sufficient, and chose to recommend no further action to the assembly. Committee member Stephanie Scott said having the borough implement additional restrictions would be redundant.
“It’s not at all necessary and I don’t think it gets us anything to set up a local regulatory authority,” Scott said. “I think it’s just a layer of bureaucracy that we don’t need.”
But the assembly can implement taxes, more zoning restrictions, conditional use requirements or, they can put a moratorium on pot businesses in the borough. Under the state’s draft law, a home-rule municipality or local government can decide how they want to proceed. Earlier this week, the Wasilla City Council voted to ban pot establishments within city limits. It’s one on a growing list of Alaska towns that have outlawed commercial marijuana establishments entirely.
Thom Ely is the chair of the Chamber’s marijuana group. He agreed that the state regulations cover all aspects. He said he expects the topic to come up at the Feb. 9 assembly meeting, though that agenda is not set. He added that he hasn’t heard of anyone champing at the bit to open a store or facility here. Logistics and expenses are probably the two big reasons why, he said.
“I just don’t see Haines being a huge commercial marijuana Mecca,” Ely said. We’re just too isolated.”
But it could be a good draw for the tourism season. One big question has been how visitors who buy marijuana will be able to legally consume it. The updated state regulations, released earlier this month, allow a retail facility to let patrons consume marijuana after they’ve purchased it. Social clubs, where people bring their own weed or infused-products, are not allowed under the state law.
Tourism director Leslie Ross reminded the committee that advertising marijuana businesses is very restricted, so marketing might be tricky.
“It’s illegal to put an ad out saying ‘Come to Haines and smoke pot.’ You can’t do that,” she said.
Alaska rules state that a business is allowed to have three signs, and that any advertisements must be a certain distant from schools and include health warnings.
Chamber of Commerce director Debra Schnabel disagreed with the committee’s hands-off approach. She said without more specific, local guidelines, the situation could turn into a confusing, contentious mess. She related it to the controversy around heliports and heliskiing.
“If you want to repeat the helicopter issue with marijuana, you go right ahead,” Schnabel said. “I just thought that this was an opportunity for the community to make a proposal to say something like ‘This is where we want this happen and this is how we want it to happen.’”
The state regulations require commercial marijuana establishments to be 500 feet away from schools, youth centers, churches and correctional facilities.
In Skagway, the planning and zoning commission sent recommendations to the assembly amending its code to include marijuana businesses in zoning restrictions. Pot businesses and cultivation facilities would need a conditional use permit to operate in various zones, and some areas are off limits completely.
Borough clerk Emily Deach said the commission is recommending that the waterfront zone in Skagway be off limits for any commercial marijuana operations, while retail stores and outdoor cultivation facilities be banned from residential areas. Other areas, including industrial zones would, for the most part, need a conditional use permit. Those suggestions will go before the Skagway assembly at the Feb. 4 meeting, pending the borough attorney’s go-ahead.
Other than zoning, Skagway committees have not recommended any other changes to the state laws. But, like Haines, that could all change once the pot issue goes before the assembly.