Juneau police end policy of flagging flying weed

Marijuana grown at a Juneau warehouse leased by THC Alaska on March 6, 2018. Up to half of the yield is earmarked for export to other parts of Alaska. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/KTOO)

A change in policy by Juneau police means licensed marijuana producers should now be able to fly their product out of Juneau on commercial airlines.

Until recently commercial cannabis was allowed to fly into Juneau International Airport, but not out.

In an industrial area of the Mendenhall Valley a red nondescript metal building houses THC Alaska.

Marijuana and its concentrates are produced here for Juneau’s retailers.

But they also have customers in other parts of Alaska, and Juneau’s geography means flying or crossing water to get it there, which involves federal legal jurisdiction.

Transportation Security Officer Renier Cava preps passengers' carry-on belongings for X-ray screening at Juneau International Airport on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017.
Transportation Security Officer Renier Cava preps passengers’ carry-on belongings for X-ray screening at Juneau International Airport on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. (Photo by Lorie Dankers/TSA)

Juneau’s pot producers have been turned away from boarding commercial flights.

It’s not clear exactly what the hang up was. There were different explanations, most coming back to the tension between state and federal marijuana laws.

But that’s all supposed to change. All four of Juneau’s licensed cultivators got a letter in the mail on Valentine’s Day on Juneau Police Department letterhead.

“To whom it may concern,” the letter signed by Juneau Police Chief Ed Mercer begins, “this letter is to advise of a procedural change the Juneau Police Department (JPD) will be making when dealing with legally licensed marijuana being transported via the Juneau International Airport.”

The letter CC’s the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Transportation Security Administration.

Juneau authorities said it’s an evolving industry.

“We’re trying to do the best that we can from a due diligence point of view to make sure that we comply with what we’re supposed to comply with and make sure that people have the proper documentation,” Juneau Police Deputy Chief David Campbell said Tuesday. “But at the same time not hinder businesses, either. We’re just trying to find that balance.”

THC Alaska co-owner Ben Wilcox is taking the police at their word. He’s packed a carry-on – plus a personal item – for a Wednesday morning flight.

“These two bags I can easily get 15 pounds of trim or about 900 units of concentrates,” he said.

Since commercial pot was legalized in 2015, product has flown into Juneau’s airport.

Those in the industry report that product is routinely flown out of other airports in Alaska.

THC Alaska facilities manager Lacy Wilcox also sits on the board of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association and said the “Juneau exception” was puzzling for everyone in the industry.

“It was hard for us to understand why Juneau was so different and all airports were freely coming and going and Juneau wasn’t,” she said. “We knew that it was a city-run airport vs. a state-run airport. But beyond that we really couldn’t understand why the requirements would be different from one to the other when we’re talking about in-state commerce.”

There has been a lot going on behind the scenes.

Meetings between the marijuana industry and Juneau police and city officials have been ongoing and sometimes, according to Lacy Wilcox, a little awkward.

“It’s always uncomfortable to go into the police department and say, ‘I’m a legal drug-seller and you’ve always looked at me one way and I’m hoping that you’ll look at me a different way starting today and how can we help you do that?'” she recalled. “It took a lot of people some guts to go and have that conversation.”

Ben Wilcox has his round-trip ticket in hand and an alarm set for an early wake-up.

“We’re going to give it a shot and turn hopefully three or four day trips into one-day trips,” he said with a laugh.

That’s assuming the weather cooperates.

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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