Alaska rejects marijuana consumption at retail pot stores

AP News
|
Posted: Feb 02, 2017 8:11 PM
Alaska rejects marijuana consumption at retail pot stores

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Marijuana regulators in Alaska narrowly rejected a proposal Thursday that would have made the state the first in the nation to allow marijuana consumers to use the pot they buy at the retail stores selling it.

In a 3-2 vote, the Alaska Marijuana Control board decided not to allow it, frustrating industry officials and business owners who vowed to continue to press for some sort of allowable marijuana use at retail shops.

The proposed new rules would have let people buy marijuana products in authorized stores and go into separate store areas to partake.

Board member Mark Springer, who was among those who voted to reject the measure, suggested moving slowly on the issue, citing uncertainty with how President Donald Trump's administration might view marijuana.

Pot remains illegal at the federal level but recreational marijuana has been legalized in eight states and the District of Columbia.

"We don't want to be waving a red flag in front of federal law enforcement, at least not now," Springer said.

Another board member, Loren Jones, said the panel received many public comments opposed to onsite use. He has been concerned about how the rule would jibe with community ordinances calling for smoke-free workplaces.

The board had been mulling the idea of onsite use since late 2015.

James Barrett, who owns a retail marijuana shop in Juneau with his brother, called the vote a "fear-based reaction." He said the decision won't affect their business plan but they saw the onsite use proposal as a way to allow people to use cannabis safely and responsibly.

Cary Carrigan, executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, said his group would work toward finding a way to allow marijuana consumers to use cannabis at authorized stores. That accommodation will have to happen at some point, he said.

Carrigan said there could be pandemonium during Alaska's upcoming summer tourism season, the first when legal pot shops will be open in the state.

One of the driving forces behind the proposal was providing a place for tourists, especially cruise ship passengers, to have a legal place to use marijuana after buying it, since public consumption is banned. Marijuana is off-limits on cruise ships.

"What are they going to do?" Carrigan said. "There's going to be 500 people standing on the docks, smoking a joint."

That's what cannabis entrepreneurs Sean Purvis and Ben Wilcox worry about, too. The campaign to legalize pot was based on the premise that it would be regulated like alcohol, they said.

Purvis has held off on applying for a license, while Wilcox held off on securing retail space in Juneau's pricey real estate market until he knew what the board would do on onsite use. He didn't want to unnecessarily pay for a bigger place.

Wilcox said he already has product manufacturing and cultivation licenses and said he'd likely submit his application for a retail license within days, "now that we know that we're going for the small place."

More than 2 million tourists visited Alaska last year, and just over half arrived on cruise ships. A study conducted for the state estimated tourists from the 2014-15 season spent $1.9 billion in Alaska, mostly during the summer months.

Critics have said tourists will not come to Alaska only for its legal marijuana because other states have also legalized recreational pot.

The board's rejection of the measure came after Sara Chambers, acting director of Alaska's Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, told board members the public notice for the onsite consumption proposal was improperly done.

The board then had several options, including re-advertising the measure for another 30 days or deciding not to advance it. They went with the latter option.

___

Thiessen reported from Anchorage, Alaska.