Marijuana, tobacco public smoking ban passes Senate
A bill that would ban onsite marijuana consumption passed the Senate on March 30, before a House companion bill has a hearing in the Health and Social Services Committee.
In public comment and in Senate testimony and debate over the legislation aimed at tobacco products, none of the public or senators addressed its affect on state marijuana industry regulations.
Both Senate Bill 1 and its House companion, House Bill 328, come from American Cancer Society pressure to ban smoking statewide, rather than Alaska’s current local control system.
Both bill’s definitions include any “plant intended for inhalation,” and would apply to chemical vaporization in addition to actual smoking. The bill also defines what constitutes a “public place” in a manner that would criminalize marijuana social clubs, which are currently in legal limbo, as well as currently legal onsite consumption at marijuana cafes allowed by the Marijuana Control Board.
Sen. Pete Micciche, R-Soldotna, introduced the bill, which would prohibit tobacco or e-cigarettes in enclosed public spaces including places of employment, apartment buildings, hotels, and at schools and universities. It grants certain exceptions to tobacco stores where 90 percent of revenue comes from tobacco sales, but includes no language to exempt marijuana retail stores with the same sales configuration.
The bill is at odds with state marijuana regulations, which explicitly grant onsite marijuana consumption to retail stores if the Marijuana Control Board approves the request.
Alaska is currently the only state with such provisions for some kind of marijuana consumption outside the home. These “marijuana cafes” ignited considerable industry excitement as an allowance for Alaska tourists, who currently have no designated area to smoke cannabis. Micciche’s bill would effectively isolate marijuana consumption to private, stand-alone homes, giving tourists nowhere to consume.
The bill would also outlaw the existing marijuana social clubs. Anchorage’s Pot Luck Events and Fairbanks’s The Higher Calling offer cannabis users a place to consume, but in which no marijuana is sold, in exchange for a membership fee.
Onsite consumption provisions for retail stores are explicitly legal, but marijuana social clubs are in limbo.
The Marijuana Control Board issued a ruling on marijuana social clubs in 2015, declaring that the board had no authority to either prohibit or to enable such clubs unless the Legislature created a social club license type in statute. Since then, clubs have continued operations, and no legal actions have been taken against them or their members.
The bill passed the Senate by a 15-5 vote.
The concurrent HB 328, as widely cosponsored in the House as Micciche’s bill was in the Senate, has already been moving through committee hearings. Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, had not yet offered an amendment that would grant the same exceptions to marijuana retail stores as to tobacco retail stores, as the bill’s last hearing before the committee ran short on time.
The House Health and Social Services Committee will review HB 328 at 3 pm, March 31.
Now that it has passed the Senate, Micciche’s bill will move to the House for consideration.
Because a companion bill is in the House, SB 1 will not need to be reviewed in any committee in which HB 328 has already been heard. The bill will need final House passage and gubernatorial approval.
This is a developing story. Check back at the Journal for updates.
DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]