FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — Brandon Emmett grew up around marijuana. His first job was turning compost on a marijuana farm for $5 an hour. He later moved to trimming and then cloning plants. His uncle was also a grower.
The dangers of marijuana preached at his public high school in Oregon never rang true. The marijuana users Emmett knew were decent people.
“I have always been part of the cannabis culture,” he said. “People talk about ‘Reefer Madness.’ I just know that that is not true.”
Emmett was recruited into the 2014 marijuana legalization movement by a friend. They won the vote in Alaska, and now he is a cannabis industry representative on the state Marijuana Control Board.
We met at Friar Tuck’s Hoagie House, the scene of multiple strategy sessions during the legalization campaign. Emmett said there used to be a sign promoting the campaign in the eatery but it kept getting stolen.
“I’ve seen some people who have them framed in their houses,” he said.
Emmett, 33, is the only person from the Interior on the state Marijuana Control Board and the youngest on the state cannabis policy-making panel by an estimated 20 years.
He was born at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and moved to Arizona and then Oregon after his parents split up.
He returned to Fairbanks almost every summer. When he was old enough, he commercial fished. At the end of one summer, Emmett stayed in Alaska.
He studied biology and emergency medicine at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He spent four years with the UAF Fire Department before moving on to mountain rescue and then maritime rescue. He is married to Allison Emmett, a counselor.
He got his start in political activism as a supporter of environmental issues. In 2013, Emmett won an essay contest with Trout Unlimited for writing an essay against the Pebble Mine.
A handful of friends from Oregon moved to Alaska at Emmett’s suggestion. One of those friends is Frank Berardi, who also attended UAF. Berardi studied business and wrote a business plan for a marijuana company. Berardi predicted that voters in Alaska would agree to legalize pot as they did in Colorado. Emmett was skeptical, but he likes risk. Berardi recruited him into the movement.
“I went from kind of a nobody environmental political activist to the guy that was running the campaign in Fairbanks,” Emmett said.
When the vote succeeded, Emmett was invited to sit on a borough-mayor-led think tank on local marijuana policy before the governor tapped him to join the state Marijuana Control Board.
The board is helping the state blaze a path into a new formerly forbidden industry.
Emmett plans to open a cannabis business with friends, including Berardi. That was a prerequisite to be considered an industry representative on the Alaska pot board.
He wants the board to adopt regulations that are safe for children but also friendly to the industry.
Emmett said he wants the state to allow outside investors to own up to a 25-percent stake in an Alaska pot business. He is also pushing for the state to condone marijuana consumption facilities.
The Marijuana Control Board has a deadline of Nov. 24 to approve regulations.
“I have to keep public health and safety in mind,” Emmett said. “I don’t want children to be consuming marijuana . But if we over-regulate the industry to where it fails, then we have done nothing.”