Sitka Police chief named to marijuana board
The Marijuana Control Board will have its third police chief sitting in the designated public safety seat after the appointment of Jeff Ankerfelt of Sitka, Gov. Bill Walker’s office announced May 24.
Walker appointed Ankerfelt to the seat that has been vacant since March. Ankerfelt volunteered to serve on the five-member board because he said he “believes it provides an opportunity for law enforcement to engage in the community and update” the understanding of marijuana.
Travis Welch, who was appointed to the seat earlier this year, resigned in March after losing his job as North Slope Borough police chief. Welch was named to the seat following the January resignation of Soldotna Police Chief Peter Mlynarik.
Walker’s office says there were two applications for the seat. Ankerfelt’s appointment is subject to legislative approval, but he will be able to serve until that vote in the 2019 session.
The appointment, which was effective May 14, comes as the board is poised to once again debate proposed rules that would allow for consumers to partake of marijuana products on site at authorized shops.
But Ankerfelt said he will not be able to attend the June 13-15 meeting in Anchorage because it falls on the same day as his daughter’s graduation from college. His first meeting attendance will be at the Aug. 15-16 board meeting scheduled for Denali National Park.
Although it had a quorum of four members and a refined proposal after two years of work on the subject, the board decided to put off its vote over on-site consumption at its last meeting until it had all five members present.
Ankerfelt was appointed police chief Nov. 1, 2016, after serving two years on the Sitka Police force. Prior to that, he was the deputy police chief of Brooklyn Park, Minn., where he served for 23 years. He’s also a graduate of the FBI National Academy.
“While at the FBI academy I met the former police chief of Sitka. He would call every now and then and say he had an opening in the Sitka police department and would I like to come,” Ankerfelt said. “My wife and I talked about how you only live once. It’s been a great decision.”
Since taking leadership of Sitka’s police department, Ankerfelt said he has kept a community and “customer service” focus to promote quality of life issues.
“At the forefront, if there are people in community that suffer from substance abuse, mental health and homelessness, we get people the care they need from counselors or the medical profession,” he said. “It’s important to feel they are one and together with police. The more information we exchange the more we can change the future of crime and victimization.”
According to the Sitka radio station KCAW, Ankerfelt launched a monthly or bi-monthly donut social he calls “coffee and donuts with a cop” as community outreach.
This is an event “where people can come over and chat with us. We’re going to be focusing on problem solving, so when we do have a 911 call, we’re going to take a look at it and look at ways to prevent bad things from happening in the future.”
Ankerfelt said his goal on volunteering to serve on the Marijuana Control Board is to help assist marijuana businesses in moving forward the “way the community wants.”
Police departments lose an opportunity if they continue to fight marijuana, which is legal in Alaska, he said.
“Law enforcement shouldn’t continue to stand in the way in terms of what a community wants in legalization. There’s an opportunity cost to our police department when they fight something that I don’t think needs to be fought. We have our hands full with heroin and other drugs. To fight marijuana gets in the way of benefits that marijuana has been shown to bring to people,” Ankerfelt said, citing seizure medicine, for example.
“To the extent I can move that forward and challenge some of perceptions in law enforcement, I want to do that.”
Sitka has been supportive of the marijuana businesses there, Ankerfelt said. Seven businesses operate in the town of about 9,500 population, including three retail stores and four cultivators.
Ankerfelt joins a board that is required to be diverse in its make-up. The board is made up of representatives from rural Alaska (Chairman Mark Springer), public health (Loren Jones of Juneau), two industry members (Brandon Emmett of Fairbanks and Nick Miller of Anchorage) and a public safety member that is required to be actively working in the field.
This is the third police chief in the position, Springer noted.
“Someone actively involved in law enforcement is the description of the seat,” Springer said. “I can see how they might be conflicted given the federal look at it. At the same time, a police officer in Alaska is there to enforce Alaska laws. It shouldn’t be that big of an issue.”
In light of Ankerfelt’s inability to attend the June meeting, the onsite consumption regulation will be postponed for voting until the August meeting.
Emmett, the board member who crafted the latest onsite consumption regulation, with Loren Jones, said he had planned on the vote occurring in June.
The proposal is to allow retail businesses to open an adjacent and separate area for people to consume marijuana products. Currently, it is illegal to smoke marijuana in a public setting and officials see an additional need to provide a place for tourists.
“I want all five board members there when this thing gets voted on,” Emmett said. “It’s been such a topic of debate that I wouldn’t want it to fail on a tie. We owe the public a five-member vote. The government put together a board of five members, and I feel the public is relying on all five positions to make a decision for the state.”
Even if the onsite consumption regulation were approved in June, businesses couldn’t open for customers until after the new year, he said.
“Even if we were to approve it, there would not be enough time passed before final regulations to be signed for the businesses to have onsite consumption prior to Labor Day when the tourists leave. It’s still going to be next summer,” he said.
The route toward signing it into law would go from passage, to public comment for 30 to 60 days, and then back to the board for either amendments or adoption, Emmett said. If there are amendments, it goes back out for public review for another 30-60 days.
Once passed by the board at the end of that period, the new regulation would need the lieutenant governor’s signature.
“It hasn’t taken very long for the lieutenant governor to sign these and they do get enacted quickly. If everything goes smoothly, we will be looking at January or February,” Emmett said.
The next MCB meeting is June 13-15 in the Atwood Building in Anchorage.
Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected].