Onsite use decision delayed; special meeting called after clock runs out
The Marijuana Control Board postponed action until April on whether to legalize onsite consumption facilities after running out of time in its two-day meeting in Anchorage Nov. 14-15.
In the meantime, because the board made it through only 22 of the 50 marijuana operations applications, they agreed to meet back in Anchorage Nov. 28-29 to finish the work. Otherwise, applicants would be left hanging until the Jan. 21 meeting of the board in Juneau.
In the closing minutes of the meeting at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center, board member Loren Jones made a motion to postpone the onsite consumption vote. This third attempt to pass a measure, brought forth by industry representative Brandon Emmett, that would allow businesses patterned on bars to open for the public to allow people to socialize and legally consume marijuana products.
But Jones put the brakes on, recommending that a new subcommittee be appointed to take up regulations deciding how the public facilities would function.
“I don’t want to do this on the fly,” Jones said. “We received 550 pages of public comment that I haven’t even been able to read yet. There are fiscal implications with enforcement staff.”
Board member Mark Springer of Bethel, representing rural residents, agreed that it would be better to concentrate on what’s involved in passing the new regulations when there is more time to go through the finer details.
“This is the most consequential issue we’ve taken up,” Springer said. “This is pretty big stuff. We just saw what people think about a cultivation operation in a residential neighborhood. Image what we’ll start hearing when we start taking testimony on onsite consumption.”
Springer was referring to an industrial-zoned neighborhood off Badger Road in Fairbanks where seven people testified against AK Green Bee, Inc. opening a marijuana grow operation. The residents complained it would be bad for the children in the neighborhood, that it would cause air pollution and bring new traffic on a small road that is critical to a number of users, including a church.
Green Bee operators won approval for their operation in a 3-2 vote, with Springer and Chairman Peter Mlynarik voting against it.
Emmett argued that the board has heard from the public regarding onsite consumption, and a year has passed with three attempts.
“We’ve debated this for a couple of years. It’s been out for public comment, and motions have been approved,” Emmett protested. “We should no longer waste public resources on this issue. If this is something that’s not in the public interest then let’s vote on it. If the board’s not interested in approving it, then we need to vote it down. We need to settle it.”
The matter first came up in January as a proposal by Emmett, an industry representative who owns a Fairbanks marijuana operation. It was tabled in February when Chair Peter Mlynarik, Loren Jones and Mark Springer voted to give the matter more time to see how the federal government would react under a new administration to legalization of marijuana, which is still federally classified as a schedule one illegal substance.
It was also taken off the agenda due to a technical error in the public notification process.
Emmett brought onsite consumption back into spotlight in March, but debating the proposal, which would make Alaska the first in the nation to allow it, didn’t receive a full hearing by the board until July, when an alternative was selected from three proposals.
In Fairbanks on July 14, a measure passed 3-2 to go out for 60 days of public comment. The board at the time agreed they wanted to give municipalities time to weigh in on the matter with the extended comment period. The Nov. 14-15 meeting was to include a vote on whether to amend the regulation and send it back out for public comment, or vote it up or down.
“I’m not sure what new information we will gather by putting it out there for more comments,” Nick Miller, an industry representative from Anchorage, told fellow board members at the meeting. “If you want more information, let’s gather it before January. We need to move on as an industry, correct the issues raised in the director’s report, not take in new information.”
Director Erika McConnell brought up the need for more staff in the enforcement section of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, if the measure should pass. She also cautioned the board to spell out how violations would be handled.
In a new motion before the board, they voted 3-2 to postpone the matter until April, with Mlyarnik, Jones and Springer voting in favor and Miller and Emmett against it. They did not take up Jones’ motion, which calls for a separate committee to address specific questions, after Assistant Attorney General Harriet Milk told the board that any subcommittee would carry with it public notification responsibilities.
The board then also agreed to meet Nov. 28-29 in Anchorage to complete the applications. Mlyarnik, in explaining why the onsite consumption agenda item must wait, said he felt a special obligation to answer the waiting applicants.
“They’ve invested money in their businesses and they want an answer,” he said. “This is a money issue for them and we shouldn’t hold them up.”
Springer assured the people attending the meeting, about 50 to 75 who filtered in and out during the two days, that the matter isn’t over.
“We heard you and we will get to onsite consumption. We just won’t be doing it today,” he said.
Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected].