Kenai pot moratorium fails before introduction

A moratorium on marijuana establishments in Kenai meant to have been introduced to the Kenai City Council was instead voted out of existence during the council’s Wednesday meeting.

Kenai Mayor Pat Porter created the proposed moratorium, which would have prohibited marijuana establishments in Kenai “until February 23, 2016, or when Regulations are adopted by the State of Alaska, whichever comes first,” according to the ordinance text. At present, Alaska’s recently-established Marijuana Control Board has issued draft regulations for marijuana establishments, and intends to have final regulations made by November. Once regulations have been made, the state intends to begin giving licenses to marijuana businesses in May 2016.

Wednesday’s vote was over whether or not to introduce the moratorium for debate at the following council meeting. The council must introduce a proposed ordinance before discussing and acting upon it — either denying it or voting it into law — in a public hearing at the next meeting. Usually, ordinances to be introduced for hearing are included in the consent agenda — a group of items that the council approves together with a single vote. When council member Terry Bookey moved to approve the consent agenda, he proposed that the moratorium be held for a separate discussion and vote. The council unanimously agreed.

At least one marijuana establishment already exists in Kenai: the social club Green Rush Events, which maintains a clubhouse where members can exchange and smoke marijuana products. Green Rush co-owners Joshua Bird and Cory Rorem, and member Michael Day spoke to the council about the introduction of the moratorium.

“I don’t think this should be introduced, because nobody knows what you’re introducing at this point,” Rorem said. “You’re just kind of throwing things out there in the wind. … What are we putting a moratorium on?”

State draft regulations list five types of marijuana establishments that may be licensed in the future, but do not include marijuana-based social clubs such as Green Rush, where marijuana is shared by paying members rather than sold by the establishment. While marijuana production and sales establishments remain illegal until they can be licensed by the state, marijuana clubs are not prohibited or defined in either existing law or the draft regulations.

Council member Ryan Marquis said he usually supports introducing an ordinance even if he doesn’t support the ordinance itself. However, in the case of the moratorium he made an exception.

“I’m so opposed to it that I can’t allow my name to be attached to even introducing it,” he said. “What I feel this ordinance does is penalize entrepreneurs and business owners because the state is taking a while to come up with regulations. I think instead of penalizing them, we should be applauding them for hitting the ground running and making Kenai the home for their business.”

Two council members had questions for city attorney Scott Bloom related to the moratorium: Bookey asked whether already-existing marijuana establishments could be allowed to continue under the moratorium; and council member Bob Molloy asked what the penalty would be for violating the moratorium.

“Those are both valid questions,” Bloom said, adding that he had been out of town while the moratorium ordinance was being drafted and so had not been consulted. “Those are issues I intend to address if it is introduced.”

Introduction of the ordinance failed, with Molloy, Marquis, Bookey, council member Tim Navarre, and student representative Hannah Drury voting against it.

“I’m not against what happened,” Mayor Porter said to the council after the vote. “But what surprises me is that now the other side, the general public who thought they could come and speak for this ordinance, will not be allowed to do that. So that process was eliminated this evening, without them knowing about the hearing that we held tonight.”

Later in the meeting, the council discussed how Kenai’s Planning and Zoning Commission should deal with the possibility of other marijuana establishments in the city. Once marijuana establishments are licensed, Kenai’s zoning and land use codes could determine where and how they will be allowed to operate.

City manager Rick Koch said that while the Planning and Zoning Commission would determine the suitability of Kenai’s zones for different types of marijuana establishments, details of future city regulation for marijuana establishments would come from the city council.

“Is there some work that needs to be accomplished outside of what we already have in our tool box for land use?” Koch said. “Should they (Planning and Zoning) consider questions the council has about density of those kinds of businesses? Should there be any limitations on numbers? Should there be any limitations on hours of operation? Obviously, at the end of the day, those are all decisions that get made by this body, but they would initiate the conversation with Planning and Zoning.”

In a memo to the city council, Molloy summarized how the city’s current zones and land-use laws could relate to the five types of marijuana licenses listed in the state’s draft regulations, as well as to the unlisted category of marijuana social clubs. According to Molloy’s analysis, each of those six establishment types could be legal (once permitted by the state) under current Kenai law in at least one of Kenai’s existing zones. However, Molloy said that different interpretations of land-use codes might draw different conclusions.

The council unanimously voted to give Molloy’s memo to the Planning and Zoning commission as an informational item for future discussion.

 

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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