Head regulator says legal marijuana will be for sale by February

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)

Marijuana sales are expected by February, according to Cynthia Franklin, director of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office. (Creative Commons photo by Brett Levin)

Alaska’s top marijuana regulator said Wednesday that pot will be on sale by February. But industry advocates expressed frustration it’s taken nearly two years since voters approved the sales.

And legislators said they’d like to see the state allow marijuana consumption in private clubs. Some lawmakers would also like state officials work to improve marijuana businesses’ access to banks.

Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office Director Cynthia Franklin told state legislators that marijuana testing should begin within weeks.

“I believe that by the time we arrive at February of 2017, we will have stores that are operating; we will have product manufacturers that are making products, which have been individually approved by this board – which is a tremendous amount of work; we will have testing facilities that are testing; and we will have a lot of cultivation facilities growing a lot of legal marijuana in Alaska,” Franklin said.

She spoke at a joint meeting of the House and Senate Judiciary committees at the Legislative Information Office in Anchorage.

Lawyer Jana Weltzin says her marijuana business clients are paying to rent property, but they’re not receiving revenue.

“It has been two years, and I’m getting to the point where some of my clients have been paying rent for a really long time,” she said.

Franklin said her office has been affected by having too few staff members for the amount of work it’s required to do.

Another obstacle for marijuana businesses is banking. Division of Banking and Securities Chief Examiner Patrice Walsh said Congress must change the law before banks will accept marijuana business customers.

“Right now, the Division of Banking and Securities is not aware of any bank or credit union in our state that is willing to bank marijuana businesses at this time, because the businesses are illegal, under federal law,” Walsh said.

But Anchorage Republican Sen. Lesil McGuire said she’d like to see the state work with federal regulators to make it easier for banking for marijuana businesses to advance. She noted a memo from former Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole said the federal government would take a hands-off approach to marijuana in states that legalized it.

“States who have legalized this have an obligation to set up regulations that provide security and authority and a clear path for banks – lending institutions – in that state to secure a legal pathway for lending,” McGuire said.

Lawmakers also questioned Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth on her recent opinion that marijuana consumption is illegal in private clubs. They disagreed with her opinion that these clubs are public spaces. The ballot question that legalized marijuana said it would be illegal to consume in public. Legislators raised the possibility that state law could be changed to allow marijuana in clubs.

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