Alaska Marijuana Control Board nixes on-site consumption

marijuana smoke photo illustration
(Creative Commons photo illustration by Chuck Grimmett)

The state’s Marijuana Control Board was set to regulate the consumption of marijuana at licensed retailers. If it had been approved, Alaska would have been the first state in the nation to allow on-site consumption.

But that’s now moot.

A 3-2 majority voted Thursday to shelve the regulations after the control board’s staff said public notices contained errors and a decision would have to be postponed for at least another 30 days.

Control Board member Mark Springer of Bethel said he worried how the feds would react to marijuana consumption in public. Pot remains illegal under federal law.

“We don’t want to draw a whole lot of attention to what is going on in this state with marijuana,” Springer told fellow board members. “We don’t want a million people getting off a cruise ship in Juneau saying, ‘Oh yeah, it’s great. We’re going to go over a half-dozen stores and smoke marijuana,’ because it will draw a big spotlight on us.”

The control board has received dozens of public comments — many of them negative — ahead of its third meeting where it considered the rules.

Both Nicholas Miller of Anchorage and Brandon Emmett of Fairbanks — who are on the board as representatives of the industry — voted to keep the initiative alive.

After the vote, business owners from Alaska’s fledgling legal marijuana industry said they were dismayed by the decision.

“They’re putting everybody in violation that’s gonna be here consuming and it’s sad,” said Tara Bass, owner of The Remedy Shoppe in Skagway, the state’s first licensed retail marijuana store. She said renovations had already been made in anticipation of the new rules.

“We prepared it to be an outdoor consumption area so it would be plenty ventilated and it’s just interesting that they’re not giving people a place to go.”

The Alaska Marijuana Industry Association had lobbied for a legal way for customers to consume on the premises. Executive Director Cary Carrigan said retail outlets will need to regroup and rethink their strategy before bringing the issue back to the board.

“What I’m gonna do is push the membership to put forward solutions,” Carrigan said in an interview. “To not just say, ‘I want on-site consumption!’ How do you want it? And how are you going to accomplish that? And how do you make it so it’s not a health concern, so it’s not a public issue, so it’s not something that’s blowing smoke in everybody’s face, so to speak.”

Voters in Alaska approved legalizing marijuana for recreational use for those 21 and over in 2014. But it’s fallen to the five-member Marijuana Control Board to write the regulations of how to manage lawful consumption in the state.

Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska

Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director based in Juneau. CoastAlaska is our partner in Southeast Alaska. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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