Kenai council prepares for personal use marijuana

When possession and private use of marijuana becomes legal, Kenai authorities hope to be prepared for the change. Ballot measure 2, the law legalizing the drug, will become effective on Feb. 24.

According to Kenai city attorney Scott Bloom, many questions remain to be decided by Kenai before the new state marijuana laws go into effect. Bloom and Kenai police chief Gus Sandahl presented an outline of these issues at the Wednesday meeting of the Kenai City Council.

Sandahl began the marijuana discussion with a report on his attendance of a marijuana law conference held in Denver, Colorado by the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police. Sandahl said that the conference “gave a comprehensive view — to get us to a novice level, they stressed — of the impacts of legalization in Colorado.”

“We learned about how local control is important, with regard to certain things,” Sandahl said. “There are unknowns as to… what holes there might be in (state) regulations that will require us on the local level to pass our own laws.”

Sandahl said one such “hole” in the Colorado regulations was butane hash oil extraction. Although this subject is not addressed in Colorado’s state-level marijuana law, it is controlled or forbidden under local laws in different areas of Colorado. Sandahl said that such openings also existed in Alaska’s state-level marijuana law, and he would look to the city council to resolve them.

“I still have some unknowns that I need to clarify with various sources in Alaska, with the city attorney, as to how enforcement is going to occur,” Sandahl said. “For example, violations of public consumption of marijuana in the city. I’m going to need to be able to guide our officers appropriately, and of course we’ll want to inform the public.”

Bloom said that while Kenai would not be able to bring new ordinances into effect before Feb. 24, the city needed to make decisions about how to enforce the state law. These include a clarification of the ban on marijuana use in public places, and a decision of how to exact the penalty that ballot measure two set for public consumption, which includes a fee of up to $100 and a mandatory court appearance.

During the following discussion of the council, Bloom elaborated on the problems each of these decisions will entail.

“I’m not sure that there’s a good working definition of ‘public’,” Bloom said.

Council member Terry Bookey pointed out that alcohol regulations also prohibited public consumption, and asked Bloom how that law defined “public.” Bloom said that the definition in alcohol policy would not be sufficient for marijuana.

“I think that marijuana requires a more specific definition,” Bloom said, “as well as a different consideration in that if I’m drinking a beer next to you, you’re not going to get any of my second-hand beer, unless I spill it on you. Whereas I think there is a reasonable concern of second-hand exposure to marijuana smoke. Also, I don’t think that what we’re going to see from the state will allow marijuana smoking in a bar, whereas you can drink in a bar.”

The mandatory court appearance required for public consumption violations was also discussed.

“If Gus (Sandahl) gives a ticket (for public marijuana consumption), that person can’t just come pay the ticket,” said Bloom. “They have to go to court no matter what, because there’s not a set bail schedule.”

He suggested that the council establish a set fine amount to expedite the enforcement process.

In addition, Bloom said he was working with city human resources manager Christine Cunningham to revise the city’s marijuana policy for its employees.

“It would normally be covered as a controlled substance, and I’m not sure that’s appropriate anymore,” Bloom said.

Council members discussed other possible subjects of marijuana-related legislation, such as establishing a per-household limit on the number of personal use marijuana plants, and regulations of butane hash oil extraction. Although discussed, the council deemed these issues less urgent than the priority decisions recommended by Bloom.

Bloom and other members of the city of the city administration are currently developing proposals for the city council to vote on.

Other events at the city council meeting included a favorable report on the city’s investments from managers Alaska Permanent Capital Management, appropriations for airport security cameras, the awarding of a contract for playground equipment for the municipal park, and the adjustment of city animal control fees to allow microchipping of shelter animals.

 

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

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