EDITORIAL: Governor makes solid picks for marijuana board

The state of Alaska now has its first Marijuana Control Board. Selected by Gov. Bill Walker and announced on July 1, the initial board members will face a weighty task: charting a course to commercial permitting and regulation of retail marijuana sales. Given the magnitude of their responsibility, it’s a good thing the marijuana board has as much time to draw up policy as it does.

Some of the five initial selections to the board will be familiar to those who pay attention to local government or state action on the marijuana issue so far. In particular, the two seats on the board allocated to representatives of the marijuana industry will be filled by the two figures most prominent in the legalization campaign and legislative process.

Brandon Emmett, of Fairbanks, is the executive director of the nonprofit Center for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, which was active in promoting marijuana legalization during 2014’s ballot initiative campaign. And Bruce Schulte, of Anchorage, was the marijuana industry’s representative in Juneau.

Mr. Schulte helped explain the practicalities of legal marijuana to legislators debating law changes and argued against what he saw as attempts to thwart the will of voters in making the drug legal.

The other three seats on the board will be filled by representatives of the public health, public safety and rural communities. Loren Jones is a Juneau Borough Assembly member who has served as director of the state Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.

Peter Mlynarik is Soldotna’s chief of police. And Mark Springer sits on the Bethel City Council. All three will have valuable experience and insight that will help inform the board’s decisions as it weighs its options on commercial marijuana.

The structure of the board is well crafted and, given its makeup, is likely to ensure state residents’ perspectives on the marijuana issue are represented in the determination of policy and regulation. The marijuana industry’s two seats for the coming year will ensure the voices of the majority of Alaskans who voted in favor of legalization are represented.

At the same time, those likely to be dealing with some of the negative consequences of the drug’s legal status — law enforcement, health professionals and rural residents (who are sometimes short on both of the former) — will also have a seat at the table to make sure implementation of marijuana regulations protects residents from as many pitfalls as possible.

There’s a knock to be made against the governor’s selections. While all of those selected are well qualified, they’re also all men. This is likely partly the consequence of the makeup of those who applied — out of 132 applicants for the board, only about one-fourth were women. But among the roughly 30 female candidates, some were well qualified, would have served the state well and also added additional perspective to the group. It will be something for Gov. Walker to keep in mind when making future selections.

The members of the marijuana control board have their work cut out for them. Between now and Nov. 24, the group must draft and approve all of the state’s policy for dealing with retail marijuana growing, marketing and sale. By February 2016, they will begin accepting license applications for commercial marijuana operators, and by May 2016 those licenses will be issued and the full breadth of marijuana legalization in Alaska will be in effect.

It’s going to be a tough job, but those in the newly filled board seats volunteered for it. Their first meeting took place in Fairbanks July 2 — there’s no time to waste.

09/23/2015 - 1:28pm