Turning a new leaf: Soldotna ends marijuana moratorium

Soldotna’s moratorium on commercial marijuana will end on January 1, allowing commercial pot growing, testing and selling within the city of Soldotna.

 

The decision was made after Mayor Pete Sprague broke a 3-3 tie, voting down an ordinance which would have indefinitely extended the two year moratorium.

“We did pass a moratorium two years ago,” Sprague said. “But, the reality is that marijuana is here, the cannabis industry is here and it’s not going away.”

The city must now begin the process of drafting regulations to control the industry within the city.

“We can have far more stringent regulations than the state and the borough have,” Sprague said. “And we have the opportunity to tax the heck out of it.”

Council members Tyson Cox, Lisa Parker and Regina Daniels voted no on the ordinance. Paul Whitney, Tim Cashman and Linda Murphy voted yes. Sprague broke the 3-3 tie with his no vote.

“We put this moratorium on two years ago, I sponsored it,” Daniels said. “I believe that the moratorium did what, at least what I, intended for it to do …for us to see what was going to happen with the industry instead of jumping right into things when the vote passed, when it became legal in 2014.”

The council voted to enact the initial moratorium in December 2015, and as it was drawing closer to the end, the council directed City Manager Mark Dixson to draft an ordinance banning commercial marijuana.

“I’m not saying that people should not be allowed to smoke it, to grow their own pot,” Murphy said on Wednesday, in favor of the ordinance. “… I don’t necessarily want that in this little town. We have a very small footprint. If you can’t travel half a mile to get your pot, there’s another problem there. It’s readily accessible to anyone in town.”

Council members in favor of the ban also cited the ease with which someone can currently attain marijuana and the added stress of regulating the industry as their reasons for banning marijuana.

The vote came after nearly an hour of public comment, mostly against banning the commercial marijuana industry.

“If you think that by not allowing it to be sold within city limits … is going to somehow change the use, transportation and possession of marijuana in the city limits you’re fooling yourselves,” Arthur Robinson said to the council. “That’s not going to change, it’s going to be the same and it’s going to be legal. So, the question is, what are the benefits to the city of Soldotna to legalize the commercial use of it? Money, it comes down to money. If the city eliminates the moratorium, allows the commercial sale to take place in the city there will be economic benefits. To completely ban it indefinitely makes no sense.”

Craig Aglietti, co-owner of the Anchorage marijuana store Dankorage, spoke at the meeting in support of Kenai Peninsula marijuana businesses already in operation and to the economic benefits of commercializing marijuana.

“With my shop alone, we’ve given the (municipality) over $100,000 in sales tax,” Aglietti said. “That’s just one shop … Take a moment to think about what you’re going to turn your backs on if you ban this industry, it doesn’t make sense to me.”

Local marijuna dispensary owner Patricia Patterson of High Bush Buds, commented on the ordinance, expressing her concerns that she would have to cease operations down the line, since her commercial marijuana business falls within an area that the city is considering for annexation.

In response, the ordinance saw one amendment, proposed by Parker, before being voted down that would have allowed businesses already in operation outside of city limits to continue operations if their location were to be annexed by the city in the future.

“I do like the amendment,” Cashman said. “One of the things I think it shows is, regardless of how this ordinance goes … If annexation goes forward there’s a lot of things the city would probably do to accomodate situations.”

After Sprague cast his no vote, he quickly stopped any ideas of celebration from the crowded council chambers, who had began to applaud his decision.

“This is not entertainment here tonight,” Sprague said. “… Ordinance 2017-025 has been defeated and with that, there will be a lot more work to do.”

Currently, Kenai is the only city on the central peninsula with operating cannabis businesses. Their regulations, which were finalized in early 2016, require prospective marijuana businesses to observe a 1,000-foot setback from any school and a 500-foot setback from other sensitive areas, such as recreation centers, churches, correctional facilities or drug abuse treatment centers.

Kenai City Council rejected an ordinance loosening the marijuana setback requirements last week, maintaining that the setbacks be measured by a straight-line measurement, not by pedestrian routes.

On Oct. 3, Kenai Peninsula Borough voters outside of incorporated cities will decide on Propositon 1 — which questions whether the borough should ““prohibit the operation of any commercial marijuana establishment outside of the Borough cities.”

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com.