Kenai finalizes pot regulations, doubles schools setback
KENAI — Prospective marijuana businesses in Kenai will have to observe 1,000-foot setbacks from schools, 500-foot setbacks from other sensitive areas — measured two different ways — a list of zones in which they can establish themselves with permission from the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission, and two zones in which one business type can operate unpermitted.
The Kenai City Council amended and unanimously passed the city’s final marijuana regulations during a four-and-a-half hour meeting Jan. 20.
At the final meeting in which they could pass law that would be in effect before the state begins accepting commercial marijuana license applications on Feb. 24, the council edited and passed a set of marijuana regulations originally created by the Kenai Planning and Zoning commission.
The regulations mandate minimum distances between marijuana businesses and schools, recreation centers, churches, correctional facilities, or drug abuse treatment centers. In the case of schools, this setback is 1,000 feet, measured from the outer wall of the marijuana business’s building to the property line of the school. The 500-foot setback from recreational centers is measured the same way.
The 500-foot setback from churches, correctional facilities, and drug abuse treatment centers is measured from the marijuana business’s outer wall to the nearest pedestrian entrance.
Five principals from area schools testified at the meeting to their personal support of the 1,000-foot school setback.
The setback, which is double the state-mandated 500-foot school setback, was recommended by Kenai City Attorney Scott Bloom, who said it complied with the federal Drug-Free School Zone Act.
Marijuana establishments will also be constrained by zone.
Of the four state-licensed establishment types, only one will be allowed without planning and zoning permission, and only in two zones.
Establishments licensed to test marijuana for contamination and potency will be allowed in Kenai’s light industrial zone — concentrated near the airport and a spot along the Spur Highway at the northern edge of town — and the heavy industrial zone — located near the Kenai River along Bridge Access Road.
Holders of the other license types — for marijuana cultivation, retail, and the manufacture of marijuana products such as concentrates and edibles — will have to seek conditional use permits from the planning and zoning commission before opening in allowed zones.
The change allowing unpermitted testing in industrial zones was proposed by council member Bob Molloy and passed unanimously.
Motions by council member Terry Bookey to also allow planning and zoning-permitted cultivation and retail establishments in the industrial zones failed, with council members Brian Gabriel, Henry Knackstedt, Tim Navarre, and Kenai Mayor Pat Porter voting against both motions.
Bookey made a successful motion to allow retail establishments with planning and zoning permission in the central mixed-use zone, where they had been banned under the planning and zoning commission’s draft regulations.
The central mixed-use zone is located around the intersection of Bridge Access Road and the Kenai Spur Highway, and north of the Kenai Spur Highway across from Old Town.
A resolution passed by the seven members of the Kenaitze Tribal Council requested that the Kenai City Council exempt Old Town Kenai, defined in the Kenaitze resolution as the area between Broad Street and Petersen Way, from all four commercial marijuana license types.
The resolution stated “the Kenaitze Tribe has a firm belief that substance use negatively impacts our traditional ways of living, culture, and values” and referred to the tribe’s large presence in Old Town Kenai through its Dena’ina Wellness Center and Tyotkas Elder Center.
Although the zone Bookey proposed opening to commercial marijuana lies near Old Town Kenai, it is mostly separated from it by the Kenai Spur Highway, with only a few highway-fronting lots directly bordering Old Town.
Bookey said these would be accessible by vehicle from the highway, but not from Old Town. The change was made with opposing votes by Gabriel and Porter.
Bookey also made a successful motion to allow small-scale marijuana growers to operate with conditional use permits in residential and limited commercial lots less than 40,000 square feet, which was opposed by votes from Navarre, Porter, and Gabriel.
Bookey, who had recently been traveling out of state, said he had seen marijuana regulations at work in Washington and Oregon, and the experience — along with the finalized set of Alaska regulations expected to be signed officially by Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallot on Jan. 24 — had reassured him that marijuana could be commercialized safely.
“With the regulation that’s going to be put forth for cannabis, I’m less scared than I was before — and I wasn’t that scared to begin with — about it getting to unintended users,” Bookey said.
Reach Ben Boettger at email@example.com.