Morris News Service-Alaska/ Juneau Empire

Juneau bars some materials for marijuana concentrates

JUNEAU — Anybody attempting to make marijuana concentrates using butane, propane or any other such chemical had better think twice. Not only could using these gases result in a potentially deadly explosion, they will now result in misdemeanor charges, too. Without objection, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly passed an ordinance Feb. 8 making it illegal for anybody without a license or permit to make marijuana concentrate — waxes, oils, etc. — using extraction methods that are not alcohol-, food- or water-based. This ordinance applies to all city zones; no permit or license, no gas-based extraction. Until Feb. 8, the ordinance allowed only for food- and water-based extractions, but Assembly member Debbie White motioned to include alcohol-based extractions, which she pointed out are not as dangerous as using explosive gases. “Alcohol is flammable, but it’s definitely not explosive,” she said. With a 5-3 vote, the Assembly approved White’s motion but not before consulting with Capital City Fire/Rescue Chief Rich Etheridge, who confirmed White’s point. “I think the risk is less than those explosive, compressed gases, but there is a risk similar as when cooking with alcohol or using it in your garage,” he told the Assembly. “There is a risk, but it’s not the level of using butane or those other methods.” Assembly members Loren Jones, Maria Gladziszewski and Mayor Mary Becker voted against White’s amendment. Jones said that he wanted the Assembly to clarify what it meant by “food-based” extraction, explaining that people are already making concentrates illegally. The only way the Assembly can make sure people are making concentrates safely is by “better defining ‘food-based.’” Assembly member Jesse Kiehl, a proponent of the ordinance and of White’s motion said that what Jones was asking for was beyond the scope of this particular ordinance. “In terms of dealing with this ordinance, that is dealing with things that go boom, any of these food products are OK with me because none of them go boom,” he said responding to Jones. “It makes sense that we should allow people to do alcohol-based extractions because it’s not going to make the neighbor’s house blow up.” The members of the Assembly weren’t the only ones talking about marijuana in City Hall Monday. The Assembly discussion regarding the concentrate ordinance was preceded by a lengthier public-comment period than usual. Four North Douglas residents, including Planning Commission Chair Nicole Grewe, spoke out against the Assembly’s decision to allow commercial marijuana operations to operate in D1 and Rural Reserve zones outside the urban service boundary. Though the Assembly established the zoning rules for marijuana businesses in early November, Grewe said it’s not too late to ensure neighborhood harmony. “We answered the where, but we didn’t answer the how,” she told the Assembly. Grewe also took issue with the fact that the Assembly had made the “random” distinction between D1 and Rural Reserve neighborhoods inside the urban service boundary and those outside it, which is the case for her neighborhood. Not all neighborhoods outside the urban service boundary are low density, she said. “I could subdivide my lot, put in two grow facilities, and force my neighbors to look at two marijuana farms, 1,000 total square feet,” Grewe said. “That’s not low density, not even close.” The Assembly didn’t discuss the zoning matter further, as it was not an agenda item.

Alaska goes full year without fishing fatality for first time

The deadliest catch is getting a lot less deadly. Last week, the U.S. Coast Guard reported to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council that for the first time in known history, no one died on the job while commercial fishing in Alaska during the last federal fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. “This is the first year, going back as far as we have records, that we didn’t have what I’ll characterize as an operational-related death,” said Coast Guard Capt. Phillip Thorne, chief of enforcement for the Coast Guard in Alaska. That claim comes with a few caveats, said Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, who monitors fishing deaths in Alaska for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “It’s a case definition issue,” she said. “Unfortunately, there were still fatalities in the fishing industry as NIOSH would define them.” The Coast Guard’s “operational death” category includes deaths that happen in the act of fishing, but it doesn’t include the deaths of fishermen that happen while a boat isn’t actively working. In most years, that distinction wouldn’t matter. Commercial fishing was for years the deadliest industry in Alaska and the United States, and changing the measuring stick couldn’t change that. It’s one of the reasons the TV series “Deadliest Catch,” which just completed its 11th season following crab fishermen in the Bering Sea, earned its name. Today, salmon fishing — not Bering Sea crabbing — is Alaska’s deadliest catch, and commercial fishing nationwide — and especially commercial fishing in Alaska — is getting safer. In 2005, the year “Deadliest Catch” premiered, 15 people died in Alaska’s fisheries, most when their boats sank. Last year, according to NIOSH figures, just nine people died in Alaska fishing accidents, and the 29 deaths nationwide were the lowest since NIOSH started keeping records in 2000. During the period of the Coast Guard’s claim, NIOSH recorded only a handful of deaths in Alaska. Those include a man who washed up in Kodiak’s harbor, a possible fall overboard in Seldovia, a suicide aboard a fishing boat, and what was either another suicide or a drug overdose. All those cases are still being investigated. “They’re not the kind of events we typically associate with fishing accidents,” Lincoln said. The first definitively fishing-related death took place Sunday when a Kodiak diver was killed while harvesting sea cucumbers in a commercial fishery. Those incidents aside, Alaska’s fisheries are getting safer, Lincoln and Thorne said. “In the United States, the number of fatalities are decreasing; there is a decreasing trend,” Lincoln said. The number of fishermen is declining, which is likely a factor. Many fisheries have been rationalized and consolidated, with quotas in place for individual fishermen instead of an entire fleet. Instead of having boats race out to catch the most fish before the fleet hits its quota, fishing is slower. “It’s allowed fishing vessels to be empowered to make very good decisions about the weather and their operations … and that’s resulted in a safer fleet,” Thorne said. New equipment — winch shutoffs, more comfortable life jackets and better training through groups like the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association — also helps. The Coast Guard has also increasingly emphasized safety exams and on Thursday began mandating them nationwide for every fishing vessel that works more than 3 miles offshore. With more federal fisheries observers required aboard Alaska fishing boats, “we have had a lot of outside drivers that have made our phone ring, and it’s just been fantastic,” said Scott Wilwert, the Coast Guard’s commercial fishing vessel safety program manager in Alaska. Wilwert said about 1,500 boats in Alaska will need an exam, and about 400 still need to get one. There’s also simple chance. While six commercial fishing boats sank between June and September this year, no one was killed. In the past, vessel sinkings have been either the biggest or one of the biggest drivers of fishing fatalities.
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