Juneau Assembly considers moratorium on legal pot shops

Voters approved the legal the production, sale and use of marijuana for Alaskans over 21 years old in the Nov. election. (Creative Commons Photo by Brett Levin)
Voters approved the legal the production, sale and use of marijuana for Alaskans over 21 years old in the November election. (Creative Commons photo by Brett Levin)

One of the reasons Giono Barrett moved to Alaska almost seven years ago was because the state already has pretty lax marijuana laws. The 1975 Ravin v. Alaska ruling by the state Supreme Court allows residents to possess a small amount of pot for personal use. Barrett, a 33-year-old Minnesota native, says he’s already growing marijuana with his brother in a house they share in Juneau.

“Right now, it’s six plants. I’m sticking to the guidelines Alaska has stated,” he says.

And he insists it’s all for personal use.

“I really don’t want to get in trouble,” he says.

But Barrett says he is looking forward to the day he can legally sell pot. In November, Alaska voters approved recreational marijuana for people 21 and older. The new law doesn’t take effect until next month, and after that it’ll take another nine months for the state to enact regulations governing commercial retail and grow operations. Still, Barrett and his brother have signed on to a reality TV show chronicling their operation.

Giono Barrett
Giono Barrett and his brother are already growing pot in Juneau. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

He’s not currently working, and says they’re putting all their efforts into expanding what they grow now. Eventually, he says, they want an outdoor cannabis farm to supply retailers around the state. They’d offer tours to capitalize on Juneau’s visitor industry and help others grow marijuana, something he says they already do now.

“You can grow cannabis. It is a weed, it’ll grow,” Barrett says. “But it’s really hard to grow in a quality form.”

But the Juneau Assembly plans to pump the brakes on Barrett’s dream grow operation. Two ordinances on Monday’s Assembly agenda would restrict – at least temporarily – legal pot in the capital city. The first is a 12-month moratorium on land use permits for marijuana-related businesses. The second would add toking up to the city’s ban on indoor smoking in workplaces.

“Right now in Juneau you can have a greenhouse with a retail sales counter in any type of neighborhood in town,” says Juneau Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl.

“So, think about quiet little residential neighborhoods where we don’t allow bars and liquor stores,” Kiehl says. “You would be able to come in and get a permit to open up a marijuana greenhouse and retail sales counter there.”

The city’s law department tells the Assembly that any permits granted now would likely be grandfathered if restrictions were adopted later. Kiehl says the moratorium is intended to give the city time to figure out where and when pot-related businesses should be allowed to operate. It would expire before the state starts to issue business licenses for legal marijuana enterprises, and it’s not a blanket ban on sales like a proposal before the Anchorage Assembly last month.

Kiehl himself supported the ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana.

“Voters in the state of Alaska passed this initiative,” he says. “Voters in Juneau voted for it by a very strong margin. And what the people voted to do, I think, the Assembly now needs to implement.”

He does think the 12-month moratorium might be longer than the city needs to figure out its zoning issues, and says if that’s the case he’d support a shorter timeline.

As for extending the city’s indoor smoking ban to include pot, Kiehl says he’s not interested in seeing Juneau overrun by hash bars. But mostly, he says, the measure is designed to protect the health of employees.

“Some people just need a job,” Kiehl says. “And your job shouldn’t come with a contact buzz.”

The Assembly will take public comment before voting on the measures. Even though he says he understands the desire to be cautious, Barrett plans to speak against the moratorium.

“We don’t want to send a message to other communities, and say ‘Hey, you can just stall this out,'” Barrett says. “The message here needs to be that we need to keep moving forward, and we can work through all this stuff.”

He says potential marijuana entrepreneurs want to work within the rules established by the city. But the longer it takes to set up those rules, the more uncertainty it creates.

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