Transport rules examined; pot event organizers fined

  • Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office Executive Director Erika McConnell recommended fines of $20,000 for an Oregon couple that hosted the Cannabis Classic on May 19 in Anchorage after pictures surfaced on Facebook of attendees openly consuming during the event. The fine was eventually set at $5,000 with $15,000 suspended. (Photo/Naomi Klouda/AJOC)

The director of marijuana law enforcement would like to see new requirements to tighten security for transportation via the road system including advice on locking products in a vehicle and where to store marijuana overnight.

James Hoelscher gave a report to the Marijuana Control Board June 14 on possible revisions to current practices.

A transporter now can have a backpack or duffle bag of marijuana or products in the back seat or trunk of their car as they travel on the road system. To differentiate them from black market operators, they travel with a manifest that is filed ahead of time with Metrc, the state’s tracking contractor.

The printed manifest provides an address from point A to B and all the planned stops in between, even a bathroom break or gas fill-up. Notices of violation were issued to a Fairbanks grower this spring after the manifest didn’t contain all of the transporter’s expected stops.

In transportation regulations, the board “has clearly stated marijuana needs to be sealed and locked inside the vehicle” and can’t be open during transport, Hoelscher said. The person driving the product from the cultivator to the retail store can’t make stops in between except as specified on the manifest.

But what happens now isn’t safe, he said.

The transport can be “one of the most vulnerable points in the chain.” If transportation is an extension of a business’ license to operate, then security measures along a highway need to be tighter by spelling them out in new regulations, he said.

“It hasn’t happened yet, but suppose a vehicle gets stolen or a licensee is robbed?” Hoelscher asked the board. “Now that’s my concern.”

If a car is broken into, not only the marijuana gets stolen. The cash does as well. Colorado and Washington both require strong boxes that are welded into the vehicle.

“That box is secured and locked in Colorado and Washington,” Hoelscher said. “(A thief) can get to it if they have time. The purpose is to make it a deterrent and so difficult it’s not worth the effort. If there’s a report on the manifest that the product hasn’t arrived on time, we may have good idea of where it will be.”

The vehicle then could be quickly located by law enforcement.

Compared to a locked box, a gym bag takes away aspects of security and offers no deterrent, he added.

Also, what happens when a transporter has to break for the night, sleeping at a hotel or a friend’s house?

In that case, Hoelscher recommends the transporter take the marijuana to be stored overnight at a licensed marijuana facility.

“Alaska is Alaska and there will be weather or mechanical issues,” he said. “But there are licensees and I hope they go by the golden rule to treat others as they want to be treated. If I got stuck in let’s say Sitka, I would hope a Sitka licensee would let me manifest the marijuana into their facility.”

Retail stores and cultivators, any marijuana business operating legally, will have cameras and safe boxes for keeping overnight.

Bringing it to a hotel room or into a friend’s house overnight raises too many security questions, Hoelscher said.

Currently, the manifest that contains all the information pre-filed on Metrc helps with security because Metrc will notify AMCO if a package doesn’t show up after 12 hours.

So far, Hoelscher said, transporters have been diligent in changing the manifest when they decide they don’t need to stop, or do need to schedule one.

As for issuing violations for not following the manifest, Hoelscher said enforcement takes a look at the whole picture first.

“We would look at all things. What efforts were made to update the manifest or contact with AMCO, and what were their efforts to secure the product?” he said.

AMCO wouldn’t necessarily write a violation notice.

Chairman Mark Springer saw all these as legitimate concerns.

“I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing a new regulation project to flesh out these out,” he said.

Festival organizers fined

A couple who sell “judgeships” for a marijuana competition they put on annually called the Alaska Cannabis Classic was fined $10,000 by state regulators after people lit up at their event and then posted the activities on Facebook. They were also fined $10,000 for illegally selling marijuana without a license.

But the combined $20,000 fine was reduced to $5,000 after $15,000 was suspended on the condition that the Cory and Kendra Ray do not commit similar offenses in the future.

Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office Executive Director Erika McConnell told the board June 14 that she had a lot of dialogue prior to the May 19 Cannabis Classic with the event planners, who are Oregon residents who hold similar events at various west coast locations.

The couple advertised the classic as an event meant to increase the quality of marijuana products through education and competition.

About a week prior to the event, McConnell learned that the Wrays were advertising a bake-off competition. It asked for bakers to submit a minimum of 100 servings in one of the six categories and advertised that judges would evaluate the appearance, tastes, aroma and “effect.”

McConnell contacted the Wrays to let them know this event was not legal and the state would seek a restraining order of they moved ahead.

The Wrays changed the bake-off rules to exclude cannabis infusion.

McConnell said she also warned the Wrays in writing that public consumption of marijuana is illegal, and it is illegal to sell marijuana without a license issued by AMCO.

Yet, at the event, from 6 to 9 p.m. at 420 W. Third Ave., participants were clearly seen smoking pot and posting photos of the event on Facebook.

One of the two civil fines McConnell wanted imposed was for allegedly selling marijuana without a license. The contention by AMCO is that the Wray’s competition, which involves selling judgeships for $350 to people who pass a test of written questions on marijuana, allows participating judges to pick up samples they “must consume and rate the products before the Cannabis Classic.”

“Essentially, the Wrays are selling marijuana to individuals through their website,” McConnell wrote in her memo to the board.

Then, despite being clearly informed that there could be no onsite consumption at the Cannabis Classic, the “Wrays made no apparent effort to prevent public consumption of marijuana at the event, and allowed a vendor, Bushwackers, to light joints and hand them to consumers,” McConnell wrote to the board.

State law allows less than an ounce of marijuana to be given away.

The location where the event was held is owned by Robinson Garcia, who was also recommended for a $10,000 fine by McConnell.

The violation reads that Garcia should be fined for allegedly “knowingly allowing, on his property, violations of the (statute) which prohibits public consumption of marijuana.”

The Third Avenue building formerly housed a marijuana social club called Pot Luck that closed on April 21, 2017, after McConnell and state Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth declared to be operating illegally.

Garcia told the board he had specified “no consumption” in the rental contract signed by the Wrays.

“I did what I was asked to do,” Garcia told the board. “I don’t see the justification for this.”

In the end, the board agreed not to fine Garcia after board member Nick Miller, a marijuana business owner, noted that it’s not so common to fine “landlords after those renting his venue went out of control.”

06/20/2018 - 10:40am