Marijuana board returns to onsite consumption regulations

  • At a March 7 meeting, the state Marijuana Control Board authorized the sale of pre-rolled joints, or prerolls. The board had previously questioned whether prerolls were a manufactured project or simply a packaged product. (Photo/Peter Dejong/AP)

The pursuit of retail onsite consumption of legal cannabis in Alaska is not going away.

The Marijuana Control Board, which crafts all regulations for the state’s cannabis industry, voted to begin a regulation project for onsite consumption only a month after voting down a set of regulations that would have advanced it.

Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office staff will review the regulations and post them for public comment before March 20, when Erika McConnell is set to take over the position of AMCO director.

Onsite consumption provision for retail stores in Alaska would allow a separate, independently ventilated room for customers to purchase and consume product from only that store. For Alaska’s 2 million annual tourists, industry stakeholders say onsite consumption provisions are essential, as tourists will have nowhere to smoke without them.

In February, the board erred on the side of caution and voted by a split of 3-2 not to advance a set of regulations. Though he supported the initial idea of onsite consumption, board member Mark Springer’s typical swing vote went against moving the idea for safety reasons.

“It will draw a big spotlight on us,” Springer said. “We don’t want to be waving a red flag in front of federal law enforcement, at least not now.”

Springer voted on March 7 to open it back up when member Brandon Emmett introduced the motion.

Even though the board will consider a regulation package, it doesn’t mean Alaska shops will definitely be able to open pot cafes anytime soon. The board’s vote simply opens the plan back up to public comment.

“What we killed in the last meeting was the standards which they must meet,” explained member Nick Miller. “I’m not sure it’s a reversal. They’re at least willing to talk about it for a regulations project. That doesn’t mean it’s going to pass.”

Springer said he would never kill a discussion — even though he meant to kill the issue entirely in February.

Like many industry members, Springer believes Gov. Bill Walker’s administration could have some antipathy to the developing industry. It isn’t certain he’d vote in favor of it next time, but he did say that next time could be different.

“We voted to kill the regulations last time,” said Springer. “I’d never vote against a regulations project. We’ll see what it has in it, whether there’s been any change in the tide.”

Emmett’s plan didn’t come easily.

This marks the latest in a series of procedural issues with onsite consumption. Both the board itself and the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office have flubbed regulations or misunderstood them.

Prior to the February meeting, AMCO staff failed to send out a public notice on the onsite consumption regulations three times. Acting AMCO director Sara Chambers described these as “staff errors” and has apologized for the delays on several occasions.

“I have only been with the agency since January 10, so I am not sure why the errors occurred,” wrote Chambers in an email. “However, they were purely administrative in nature, and we are working to ensure that systems are in place and proper training of staff is provided so similar problems are avoided in the future.”

When it halted the regulations in February, the board itself overlooked the fact that it had already approved several business licenses that had plans to ask for an onsite consumption provision.

In the end, the board had to take a vote that in effect clarified what it had voted to do during the February meeting. For much of the meeting, the board spun itself on a Robert’s Rules of Order hamster wheel, confused as to whether or not it had previously banned all onsite consumption for good, banned it only temporarily, allowed onsite consumption for five businesses, or allowed it later on for whatever businesses submitted an acceptable plan.

Chambers and board members each clarified that their intent had never been to approve any onsite consumption applications until the board made a framework.

Board member Loren Jones said he disagreed with the entire concept of approving onsite consumption licenses without a regulatory plan — which board staff said was the implications of its former vote.

“This board cannot on an ad hoc basis, by default, approve something that has so much potential in the public and in an industry without a set of rules,” said Jones, the public health designated seat on the board. “I can’t accept that the staff would even think we would approve an onsite consumption outside of a set of regulations.”

In the event that onsite consumption gets the go-ahead from the board, customers will have joints to smoke.

To start the meeting, the board OK’d pre-rolled joints, or prerolls, to be sold in stores.

Previously, the board had questioned whether prerolls were a manufactured project or simply a packaged product.

The problem has to do with licensing. If prerolls were a manufactured product, they would have to come from a manufacturing facility, meaning there would have to be an extra step or transport, expense, and red tape between growing pot and selling it in a scrap of paper.

“Based on those regulations, they can,” explained cannabis retail Miller. “It should be clarified that nothing can be mixed or included in that marijuana…then it becomes a product.”

03/08/2017 - 12:44pm