Onsite consumption tops agenda for marijuana board
Proponents of legalizing public establishments for marijuana consumption are hoping the third time is a charm.
Onsite consumption leads the action agenda for the Nov. 14-15 Alaska Marijuana Control Board meeting in Anchorage at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center.
The matter first came up in January as a proposal put forth by board member Brandon Emmett, an industry representative who owns a Fairbanks marijuana business. 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 the limelight 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.
It’s not yet known which communities weighed in, because the board hasn’t yet posted its public comments. But industry members have made their preference known.
“We have really leaned our shoulder into this,” said Cary Carrigan, the executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Alliance. “We believe it’s critically important for the industry and vitally for the public as well, especially for tourists who need a legal venue for public consumption.”
Proponents argued after the 2014 passage of the vote making recreational marijuana legal that regulations should be patterned after those for alcohol, which includes public consumption in bars, said Emmett.
Proposed onsite consumption of marijuana would, in theory, be similarly based on laws governing public drinking establishments: kick out the inebriates, vigilance on illegal sales, monitor for over-consumption and keep out anyone under 21.
The problem with that comparison nowadays is that most bars don’t allow smoking because of local ordinances, public health officials such as board member Jones pointed out during board meetings.
Groups such as the American Lung Association, local government officials and individuals have argued air filters and other innovations haven’t solved the key question of public smoke hazards, said Jones, a Juneau assemblyman appointed to the public health seat for his long history in the substance abuse and mental health fields.
If the measure passes, the regulation would go back out for 30-day public comment, unless the board decides to grant a longer period for comments.
As written and passed by the board for the public comment in July, the regulations for legal onsite establishments would be the following:
• The facility would need to protect employees from second-hand smoke by offering a window viewing area to monitor the floor where consumption takes place.
• Onsite consumption would need to be screened off from public viewing just as current regulations keep shop windows blocked from outsiders looking in.
• Local governments would have the right to prohibit such facilities from allowing smoking if they chose.
• Marijuana business operation applicants would need to submit written plans to the Marijuana Control Board for addressing security, separation from the retail area and employee protections from second-hand smoke.
• Smoking marijuana concentrates, known as “dabs,” would not be allowed.
• Entertainment such as television, music or games would be allowed.
“I’ve talked to other state directors,” said AMIA’s Carrigan. “They are laser-focused on this one issue to see what we’re going to do.”
In November 2016, Denver, Colo. voters passed Initiative 300, allowing businesses to apply for a license to allow adult consumption in designated areas of art galleries, yoga studios, coffee shops and a variety of other businesses. But that’s a pilot program inside city limits that will sunset in 2020 unless it’s extended by the city council or voter initiative, Carrigan noted.
In California, medical bars are established that allow people to be monitored while they take prescription doses of cannabis for various illnesses and conditions.
But before being allowed to enter, the patron must carry a prescription card, explained Jesse Henry, the executive director of the Barbary Coast, located in the Mission district of San Francisco for the past 10 years. The businesses are tightly regulated to not allow for general adult usage.
“Now that recreational marijuana has passed, we’ll see if there can be expansions,” Henry said, referring to the November 2016 vote.
“Bud” tenders monitor the area where medical marijuana products are consumed. He described people who come in daily for their seizure dosages and cancer therapy, among other patients’ illnesses.
“If you don’t have a medical card and prescription, you can’t get in,” Henry said.
He also described an air filtration system he said gets 99 percent of the smoke out.
The Anchorage Assembly took proactive action at its Oct. 10 meeting by passing an ordinance that, while it doesn’t advocate for the public marijuana sites, sets perimeters in case the board’s regulation passes.
Assemblyman Christopher Constant, who represents Downtown, said he wants to see a legal way for tourists to consume marijuana products. He also sees it as a personal liberty issue.
“I don’t know what is going to happen on the Marijuana Control Board, but I do see that they have a chair who is anti the regulation,” Constant said, referring to Chair Mlynarik, the Soldotna police chief who also helped sponsor an initiative that went to Kenai Peninsula Borough residents that would have banned legal marijuana operations outside of cities. The measure lost 64-36 percent.
“It may be hard to get the votes, but I think the challenges in the smoking issues can be worked out locally,” Constant said.
The ordinance passed by the assembly states that the smoke-free areas for employees must be included. They also want outside smoking areas available, separated by a wall and a secure door from the indoor business portion. The business must maintain a ventilation system so that it “does not emit an odor that is detectible by the public from outside the pubic consumption site except as allowed by a local government conditional use permit process.”
The MOA will charge $2,000 for the initial business license to a consumption site, and thereafter a $1,000 renewal fee.
To see the full agenda of the Nov. 14-15 Marijuana Control Board, go to https://www.commerce.alaska.gov/web/Portals/9/pub/MCB/Minutes/2017/11.14...
Naomi Klouda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.