Marijuana Control Board nominee draws fire from industry

The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee fields calls from constituents regarding Marijuana Control Board nominee Vivian Stiver, Feb. 12, 2019. From left to right: Sens. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, and Chris Bishop, R-Fairbanks.

The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee fields calls from constituents regarding Marijuana Control Board nominee Vivian Stiver, Feb. 12, 2019. From left to right: Sens. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, and Chris Birch, R-Fairbanks. (Gavel Alaska cropped video still)

Alaska’s marijuana industry flooded the phone lines during a legislative committee hearing Tuesday to oppose Gov. Michael Dunleavy’s appointment of Vivian Stiver to a state board that regulates marijuana.

Stiver is a a former Fairbanks city councilwoman who was a vocal critic of marijuana businesses in Fairbanks. She would replace Fairbanks cannabis business owner Brandon Emmett on the state’s Marijuana Control Board. Dunleavy recently declined to reappoint Emmett to another term.

Critical testimony — mostly from cannabis industry business owners and workers — was intense, with more than 50 callers and more than 20 emails warning the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee that appointing someone hostile to the industry would take the state backward.

“Gov. Dunleavy, when he was a senator, was one of our strongest opponents,” Fairbanks marijuana business owner Cole Hollister said. “I believe that in removing one of our biggest voices in Brandon Emmett from the board and appointing Vivian Stiver, he’s spoken loud and clear of his intentions toward the industry.”

Others warned that efforts to turn back the clock on marijuana would bolster the state’s black market.

Joshua Tobin described himself as a “20-year veteran” of the marijuana industry. But he said when cannabis was legalized in 2016, he got on board.

“When legalization came around, I wasn’t for it, but it happened,” Tobin said. “And I felt like I made a deal with the state: You give me a license, I pay taxes and we follow the rules. Appointing a prohibitionist to the board that dictates the rules wasn’t part of the deal.”

Stiver’s supporters included Anchorage Republican activist Judy Eledge. She told the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee that Stiver would be a skeptical counterweight on the five-person board that regulates commercial marijuana in the state.

“Alaskans may have voted to legalize marijuana, but many Alaskans did not,” Eledge said. “We have grave concerns about the laws and its effects on Alaskans. It is gravely important to us that the board controlling marijuana has at least a balance of people on the board from both sides.”

In her remarks to the committee, Stiver distanced herself from her past as a marijuana critic.

“I am not a prohibitionist.” she said. “I absolutely did have a position. I expected our (Fairbanks) city and borough to be ready for the industry, and they were not.”

She said she learned a lot about the industry since 2017, when she launched an unsuccessful voter initiative to ban commercial cannabis activity in Fairbanks.

“I also respect the fact that people who do this trust me because they had financial interests,” she added. “They had money laid out, and I do understand that.”

Public testimony will continue for Dunleavy’s second nominee: Alaska Wildlife Trooper Christopher Jaime. The Soldotna-based lieutenant’s nomination has been less controversial. Both nominations will require a confirmation by lawmakers.

Their appointments replace two of the three members that recently supported onsite consumption by a 3-2 vote.

The Marijuana Control Board is slated to convene a three-day meeting on Feb. 20-22 in Juneau.

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