Legislators prepare for marijuana regulation

Sen. Lesil McGuire addresses the Alaska Senate, April 19, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)
Sen. Lesil McGuire addresses the Alaska Senate, April 19, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

With an initiative to treat marijuana like alcohol now certified, lawmakers are preparing for the issue to come up this legislative session.

Sen. Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican who will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, commissioned a legislative report examining the costs and logistics of marijuana implementation. It lays out what authority the Legislature has when regulating the drug, and includes an estimate that the state will net between zero and $3 million from marijuana commercialization in the first year. As regulation costs go down and the marijuana industry matures, sale of the drug is expected to bring in over $20 million in annual tax revenue by 2020.

When it comes to marijuana legislation, McGuire says the number one goal for her is to “implement the voters’ will.”

“The idea that the Legislature would come in and try to subvert the public will, in my opinion, is off the table,” says McGuire.

The marijuana initiative stipulates that the Legislature can create a body like the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to regulate the sale of the drug. If the Legislature does nothing, the alcohol board could end up responsible for marijuana.

McGuire plans to file a bill that would allow the substances to be managed separately.

“For one, ABC is overburdened as it is. They have a lot of issues that they’re already taking on as a board,” says McGuire. “And number 2, there is a perceived conflict of interest.”

McGuire says the marijuana and beverage industries could end up competing, which would make it harder for them them be regulated by the same group.

McGuire, who voted for the initiative, says her bill may regulate marijuana advertising and drug safety issues. She also plans to look at the interplay between state and federal law.

“I think this is going to be the most challenging issue we will have to face,” says McGuire. “It’s still illegal under federal law to consume marijuana. So what happens when someone who lives in rural Alaska is transporting that marijuana via their boat?”

In the House, Anchorage Republican Bob Lynn has already announced he plans to file a bill preventing marijuana retailers from operating near schools, churches, and parks. McGuire says multiple marijuana bills are likely to be combined in one omnibus bill.

The marijuana initiative was modeled after similar ballot measures in Washington and Colorado, and it passed with 53 percent of the vote.

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