Gov. Bill Walker has no shortage of names to replace Bruce Schulte on the state’s body of cannabis regulators.
Walker fired Schulte from the Marijuana Control Board on July 29, leading to a conclusion on Schulte’s part of anti-cannabis agenda within the governor’s administration. The board’s applicant listings are now stacked with more than 100 industry members, public officials, average citizens and attorneys with varied ties to commercial cannabis.
It remains to be seen whether Walker will appoint another member of industry or someone from the general public to the seat. State law requires one seat be reserved for industry and another for either industry or the general public. Through its first year, the board had two industry representatives.
Both Schulte and board member Brandon Emmett insist Emmett filled the industry/public seat and Schulte the designated industry seat, but Emmett’s original appointment letter from July 1, 2015, does not specify one way or another.
Grace Jang, Walker’s director of communications, said the seat is open to more than just an industry representative.
“That seat is open to industry or public,” said Jang. “It just depends on who’s the most qualified.”
The list of candidates from 2015, when the board held its first meeting, is still active. Several industry representatives have either reapplied or submitted new applications.
Among the new names are Joshua Tyson Bird, Mark Browne, Krystal Dietrich, Billy LaVoyce Fikes, Jr., Johnny Furlong, Matthew Gore, Diane Lee Hutchison, Kim Kole, Cameron Leonard, Robert Mikol, Dollynda Phelps, Rebecca Rein, Amy Tuma and Sara Williams.
Those without licenses
Bird, Browne, Fikes, Furlong, Gore, Hutchison, Leonard, Nathan and Rein have no cannabis licenses pending. Some are known in the industry, while others have no apparent involvement.
Three applicants have legal or public service background.
Diane Hutchison serves on the Fairbanks-North Star Borough Assembly with a prohibitionist stance on commercial cannabis.
On June 9, Hutchison voted against local approval for several commercial cannabis licenses. She argued both that the licenses were incomplete because they had not completed background checks — the core of a much-debated argument during the 2016 Legislative session — and said she doesn’t support anything that contradicts federal law.
“You can’t just pick and choose what part of the Constitution you are affirming and you are going to uphold,” she said.
In August 2015, Hutchison proposed a borough tax of 8 percent on wholesale marijuana, instead of the current 5 percent rate applied to alcohol.
“Hutchison has mixed feelings about taxing marijuana,” according to an Aug. 10, 2015, article in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “The government might come to depend on a marijuana tax, which would make it harder to reverse the new law approving marijuana for recreational use, the assemblywoman said. On the other hand, a higher tax might discourage people from purchasing and using marijuana, Hutchison said.”
“A higher tax discourages use—to me, that’s a biggie,” Hutchison said, according to the article. “I still think the No. 1 issue here is health and the general well-being of the young people.”
Like Hutchison, others come from public or legal backgrounds.
Cameron Leonard is an attorney with Anchorage-based law firm Perkins Coie and a former senior assistant Attorney General for the State of Alaska, retiring from that position in 2013. This overlaps the years Cynthia Franklin, the board’s director, served as the Anchorage Municipal Prosecutor.
He now specializes in environmental law, particularly relating to helping industrial operations navigate federal environmental process.
Rebecca Rein is the deputy city clerk for the city of Houston.
Houston is the only locality in the Mat-Su Valley that has actively courted cannabis development, while Wasilla and Palmer have opted out and the borough will have a commercial ban ballot on the October ticket.
Other names are well known in industry groups.
Bird owns and operates Green Rush Events, the Kenai-based marijuana social club.
Furlong operates Cheeky Monkey, “a new start up company which will offer retail franchise storefronts which takes the head shop, vape shop, and accessories and brings them into one clean, sophisticated, and fun adult atmosphere,” according to its website.
Williams, who serves on the Mat-Su Borough Marijuana Advisory Committee, recently left her long-time project, Midnight Greenery, and plans to start another, though neither businesses have licenses pending with the Marijuana Control Board.
Others have little industry participation or public service or legal experience.
Browne has no license and has a public record evidently limited to a letter to the Alaska Dispatch News briefly mentioning the marijuana’s potential ability to help Alaska’s economy.
Gore’s public involvement with cannabis consists of several Amazon product reviews for grow tents, lights and plant nutritional supplements.
Those with licenses
The remaining industry applicants have a range of experience in the commercial marijuana industry.
Dietrich, owner and operator of a Talkeetna trucking business, plans to operate a standard cultivation facility in Talkeetna barring a Mat-Su Borough ban in unincorporated areas.
Robert Mikol has a license for his Fairbanks standard cultivation facility. Mikol is a geospatial analyst with Wolf Creek Federal Services and a graduate of the University of Fairbanks School of Natural Resource Management.
Amy Tuma has a license to manufacture concentrates in Willow.
Dollynda Phelps, a Kenai drywall business owner, has a limited cultivation license for a facility in Kenai.
Kim Kole has applied for four separate marijuana licenses in Anchorage.
Like Kole a fellow Alaska Marijuana Industry Association member Leif Abel, owner of Greatland Ganja cultivation facility in Kasilof, remains on the list from last year’s application period and said during an interview during his facility’s July 28 inspection that he is hoping his application is reviewed.
Another AMIA member?
Upon leaving the board he once chaired, Schulte, along with several other of the industry’s more visible members endorsed Kole, saying she knows the regulations and as a woman would address criticism from 2015 about the board members being all male.
Kole points to her regulatory knowledge as her best asset, highlighting her work producing one of the state’s marijuana handler courses, required by regulation for each commercial employee.
“We have to have somebody go in there who knows the regulations cold,” said Kole. “You can’t have somebody new learning that stuff. The fact I put together one of the handler card courses means I’ve gone over them 20 times.”
Kole also said her Anchorage home makes her an important voice, though statute for the board’s makeup does not mention geographical representation other than one member must be from a rural area. With Schulte off the board, no members currently live in Anchorage or plan businesses there.
Others said Kole or Abel would prolong a year of dominance from the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association. AMIA is among the most visible of cannabis industry groups though also the smallest, having obtained no dues-paying members since its July 2015 birth.
Its members are the remnants of the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, an advocacy group formed to advocate for the ballot measure legalizing recreational use that passed in 2014.
Schulte served as the president of AMIA but resigned shortly after the news broke of his removal from the Marijuana Control Board.
Kole is on the board of directors at AMIA alongside Brandon Emmett, Shaun Tacke, a co-owner of a Fairbanks cannabis business license with Emmett, Leif Abel, and attorney Jana Weltzin, who serves as member and legal counsel in addition to handling the personal businesses of several AMIA board members.
The group’s mission statement said it will provide fund raising efforts, sponsored recreational activities, informational seminars, group health insurance options and lobbying effort, but has engaged in few events in the last year. The state has no record of any of its members being registered as lobbyists.
Phelps is a member of the Alaska Small Cultivators Association, which encourages favorable legislation for limited cultivators with grows under 500 square feet and smaller standard cultivation operations — the Mom and Pop guys, she calls them.
She said her own involvement with the regulations is as just as substantial, having hosted one of the marijuana handler’s courses and served on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Marijuana Task Force alongside Leif Abel and Marijuana Control Board chairman and Soldotna Chief of Police Peter Mlynarik. Other industry members like Williams also have local regulatory experience.
Phelps said AMIA’s efforts consist of attention mongering more than advocacy, and that AMIA represents those wanting to dominate the industry rather than ensure equal access for the Mom and Pop operators she represents.
“I do not think it’s a wise idea,” said Phelps. “I think this industry needs a much broader industry representation than just those five or seven people. This industry consists of thousands of people, and I question why Gov. Walker would appoint two people from the same industry group and certainly don’t think it’s a good idea to do it again.”
Kole said AMIA’s involvement with the Marijuana Control Board process has not benefitted its own members exclusively.
“We are not doing it for ourselves,” said Kole. “We are doing it for the industry as a whole.”
Kole acknowledged AMIA has not been as active as planned, but that the lag came from time management issues, not intentional clannishness.
She said AMIA has scheduled a relaunch in the coming weeks to announce changes that will encourage more membership, including Schulte’s replacement, current board membership and a January 2017 voting process for board members.
“We are putting ourselves up for election along with everybody else,” she said. “We want to be as transparent and non-cliquey as possible.”
DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]