Walker sacks industry advocate from Marijuana Control Board

Bruce Schulte at a press conference held by the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation in February 2015. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)
Bruce Schulte at a press conference held by the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation in February 2015. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

One of the state’s key regulators on commercial cannabis has been unexpectedly ousted by the governor.

Bruce Schulte was active in the 2014 ballot initiative legalizing commercial marijuana in Alaska. He then served as chair of the Marijuana Control Board, a position with tremendous influence in crafting regulations for the new industry.

Recently though, he’d been voted out of the chairmanship. And last Friday, Schulte — who is a commercial pilot — landed after a flight to find an unexpected voicemail.

“I received a call from the governor’s office saying that I was being removed from the marijuana control board. No explanation was offered,” Schulte said by phone Tuesday. “I’ve tried to reach out to the head of Boards and Commissions to get some sort of explanation, and have received no response back.”

A letter emailed to Schulte and signed by Gov. Bill Walker on July 29 thanked Schulte for his service on the board, but concluded that his tenure is “no longer in the best interest of Alaska.”

Grace Jang, the governor’s director of communications, wrote in a Tuesday email that Walker “felt it was time for a change,” and that “Schulte’s approach to the staff and administrative process was not satisfactory.” Jang did not respond to a request for specific examples.

In the past, Schulte has clashed with Cynthia Franklin, who directs the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, which is tasked with developing regulations for the state. The two disagreed about specific regulatory policies, as well as over the timeline of implementing statewide laws, which critics said placed an unfair burden on the fledgling industry.

Schulte believes the makeup of the marijuana board reflected Alaskans divided opinions on commercialization, with both proponents and skeptics of the new industry giving regulations a measured, conservative shape in the course of the last year. He sees the effort to shake up the board’s composition as an attempt to change how regulations develop in the coming months.

“I think I was subject to some internal politics, and I think there was an internal effort within the administration to change the make up and the dynamic of the marijuana control board,” Schulte said. “Part of that was getting me off that board.”

Franklin with control office declined an interview request on Schulte’s departure, referring comments on the subject to the governor’s office. However, she responded with a list of the Marijuana Control Board’s accomplishments that included setting up the regulatory protocols for the electronic application process, the review of nearly 100 license applications, and meeting all deadlines set out in the original voter initiative.