Board makes call about on-site cannabis consumption

On Friday, July 14, the Alaska Marijuana Control Board voted to approve a proposal for public comment that would allow on-site consumption of cannabis at retail establishments. The public will be able to weigh in for 60 days before the board takes it up for amendment or final action at its next meeting in September. (Photo/File/AJOC)

A proposal that would allow on-site consumption of marijuana will go out for public comment after the Alaska Marijuana Control Board endorsed a measure opening the way July 14 during its meeting in Fairbanks.

 

Working from one of three draft proposals, the board looked at a number of restrictions in lengthy debates before approving the on-site consumption measure. The public will be able to weigh in on these and other aspects of the concept:

• The facility needs to protect employees from second-hand smoke by offering a screened off viewing area to monitor the floor where consumption takes place.

• It also needs to be screened off from public viewing just as current regulations keep shop windows blocked from outsiders looking in.

• Local governments would have the right to prohibit such facilities from allowing smoking if they chose.

• Applicants would need to submit operation plans for addressing security, separation from the retail area and employee protections from second-hand smoke.

• Smoking marijuana concentrates, known as “dabs”, would not be allowed.

• Entertainment such as television, music or games would be allowed.

The board voted to give the public 60 days to comment rather than the minimum of 30 in order to allow local governments time to respond.

After the 60-day comment period, the measure will come back to the board for action to amend the proposal, adopt it or reject it. If it is amended at the next meeting in September, it will have to go back out for public comment.

If it is adopted, it goes to the Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott and becomes effective 30 days after he signs it. Should it be approved, Alaska would be the first state with legal recreational cannabis to allow on-site consumption.

The board voted down member Loren Jones’ amendment to limit the amount of time a person could spend on-site to 30 minutes. Board members Nick Miller, Brandon Emmett and Mark Springer voted “no” on such a brief time limit.

That wouldn’t answer the request from the Anchorage Assembly and others for the board to come up with a legal place to consume marijuana products, they said.

“It’s putting our police in the position of deciding low level marijuana crimes essentially against tourists,” Emmett said.

Apartment renters also live under no-smoking requirements, and it’s against the law to smoke in a public park, though “green spaces” is where tourists are ending up, according to Anchorage Assemblyman Christopher Constant, who sponsored the assembly resolution.

The Assembly passed it July 11, one day before the Fairbanks meeting, asking the board to establish a regulation for consuming in the dispensaries.

“Why so overly strict and concerned about the amount of time a person would spend there?” Springer asked about the 30-minute proposal.

“Tourists are looking for a place to go and consume,” Emmett said. “Going in and hurrying out is not an experience. Why not smoke in the park? It’s not realistic. (The plan) would place more restriction in a venue that’s generally safer than the currently legal bars where people tend to consume to get intoxicated, and get rowdy and crazy.”

The hazards of secondhand smoke also hung the board up in long debate. Alaska’s law against it is meant to protect public health, Jones reminded the board.

Even e-cigarette smoking is not allowed. A compromise was struck in the wording “unless otherwise prohibited by local ordinance” to allow governments their own say over smoking in a public facility, after the board’s attorney suggested the language.

“We’ll find out if this is a concern through public comment,” Jones conceded.

Separation between the retail portion of a dispensary and the on-site consumption portion received a thorough vetting. Bars typically offer open-air decks and yard space for smoking tobacco. Modeling an on-site consumption on that model may make sense, Springer suggested. Even “a plexi-glass shack out back” might answer the need for protecting the public from second-hand smoke, he said.

They debated whether a separate structure should be required, but Emmett raised concerns this wouldn’t be necessary as long as a facility could create separate walled-off, well-ventilated space on the premises.

Jones also had wanted such facilities to keep to a minimal atmosphere of no music, television or games to discourage lingering.

Emmett objected, saying the experience of those who consume marijuana is different from what occurs in bars where people “go someplace to get intoxicated and get rowdy and crazy. That doesn’t happen with marijuana.”

That also was voted down, making way for an on-site consumption site to offer entertainment within the social space.

But there can be no smoking of tobacco or consuming alcohol on such premises, the board agreed. “Dab” use, the smoking of concentrated marijuana, also was deemed as “not for novices” and won’t be allowed on the premises due to its strong effect.

The three-day meeting is the board’s longest since forming in 2015. The first day two days were dominated with taking up 42 license applications. One application was denied and another was postponed to the September board meeting after the board requested more information.

A retail store application submitted by Carmen Perzechino called Alaska Native Cannabis Co. that was to be located on the premises of 37650 Ridgeway Street in Sterling was turned down due to a previous violation in that location.

A second business, Goldhill Gardens, was told to resubmit paperwork for the September board meeting after the applicant did not present enough detail in the business plan.

Robert Mikol of Fairbanks was not turned down in his application, but was told to expand it to include more details about his plan of operations.

Mikol had supplied brief answers due to objections that revealing sensitive details about plans makes business owners vulnerable. State law requires them to reveal where video equipment will be positioned, where the safe is located and floor layouts. The industry is cash-only because marijuana is illegal by federal law and businesses cannot access the regular banking system.

“Mikol made the case, ‘I don’t want to give this out,’” said Emmett, who spoke to the board on Mikol’s behalf because he knows the former federal security contractor. “He feels it’s too much information. In his opinion, the application is too detailed. It gives away more information than it needs and invites criminals to check on you.”

Since the board writes the regulations, Emmett believes this is an area to take up in the near future: how to comply with the necessary information the board needs to approve licenses without laying open proprietary information that leaves the cash-only industry open to becoming crime victims.

“But right now, if you want the license, you have to comply with the request for information,” he added.

• Handlers’ Permit amendment failed: This measure would have required what criminal background checks be paid for by the handler applicant. It also would have amended laws to say that an individual would be prohibited from obtaining a handler’s permit if they had committed a felony in the previous five years. This was amended to read two years after board members said smaller communities offer fewer employment opportunities and the businesses need to be able to hire as many employees as they need.

The permit is necessary for all employees of a cannabis establishment, including cashier sales and janitors.

Passed: The second part of this project, as the board calls its resolutions, was to allow a more convenient transportation between license classifications. The new regulation would read: Marijuana or marijuana product may only be transported to a licensed marijuana establishment by a licensee or an agent or employee of a licensee. It no longer specifies license types (retail, cultivator, manufacture, wholesale).

Naomi Klouda can be reached at Naomi.klouda@alaskajournal.com.

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