Kenai may vote on pot moratorium Jan. 6

While current state marijuana regulations will allow marijuana consumption in designated areas of licensed marijuana retail stores, a proposal from Kenai Mayor Pat Porter would prohibit such consumption.

Porter’s marijuana moratorium may be introduced at Wednesday’s Kenai City Council meeting, putting it up for a public hearing and the council’s vote on Jan. 6.

Similar to the marijuana moratorium Soldotna enacted on Dec. 9, Porter’s proposed ban is temporary. It would be effective for a year, “unless terminated sooner or extended by ordinance of the city council,” according to the ordinance text, while the Soldotna moratorium will remain for 2 years.

Unlike Soldotna’s ban, which prohibits all licensed marijuana establishments from operating in the city until January 2018, Porter’s narrower proposal prohibits marijuana consumption in retail stores where it may be licensed by the state, and commits the council to filing a protest to the director of the state’s Marijuana Control Board if a marijuana store that proposes on-site consumption applies for a license to operate in Kenai. Such a protest is allowed under the current regulations, which state “if a local government protests an application … the board will deny the application unless the board finds that the protest is arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.”

“This is a way for us to allow the marijuana retail stores in our community — if the council decides to do that — without the smoking in them,” Porter said.

She added she had targeted the moratorium toward retail consumption at the recommendation of city administration.

If the state creates a license for marijuana clubs — a members-only establishment in which members bring marijuana to share and use — the moratorium will require the city to file the same protest. Current regulations do not explicitly mention the clubs, although they don’t include them among the four licensable types of marijuana establishments, thus forbidding them with the condition that a “marijuana establishment may not operate in the state unless it has obtained the applicable marijuana establishment license from the board.”

This language resolves the ambiguity that previously allowed marijuana clubs to exist as unlicensed establishments that weren’t expressly forbidden — an ambiguity that troubled Kenai’s former marijuana club, Green Rush Events. According to previous Clarion reporting, Green Rush Events received a cease-and-desist letter from then-Alcohol Control Board Director Cynthia Franklin (the Alcohol Control Board regulated marijuana before establishment of the Marijuana Control Board), who took the position that the club was illegal because no license existed for it.

In a Dec. 2 interview, Green Rush Events owner Joshua Bird said the club had since closed because of the confusion surrounding the developing marijuana regulations.

“I’m getting sick of the harassment,” Bird said, “I have a wife and kids I have to take care of so I can’t be sitting in court wasting time over something so stupid.”

Bird said he planned to re-open the club, which he said had 800 members when it closed, once state and local regulations are finalized. Bird said he plans to add a dispensary to the existing building in order to be eligible for a license, and wouldn’t mind moving locations if zoning becomes an official problem. Bird could not be reached for updated comments.

In the event that marijuana clubs remain ineligible for licensing but are determined not to be forbidden by Alaska, the proposed ordinance states that “the City may seek any available injunctive remedy in the Superior Court … against a Marijuana Club that allows, encourages or provides for the consumption of marijuana or marijuana products on its non-licensed premises.”

At the time of Green Rush’s cease-and-desist letter, Porter took the position with Franklin that marijuana clubs weren’t legal, a position she maintains.

“The marijuana clubs currently aren’t legal,” Porter said. “But the state legislature may come back and make them legal. Like the marijuana club that was here before, we had no mechanism to close them down, because we didn’t have an ordinance. This would give us that ordinance should they come and operate illegally.”

Because Kenai ordinances take effect 30 days after being passed by council, the council’s Jan. 20 meeting is their last chance to have regulations in effect before state commercial marijuana licensing opens on Feb. 24. Since ordinances must be introduced at the meeting before their hearing and vote, Jan. 6 is the last meeting in which marijuana regulations could be introduced to meet the licensing deadline.

If state-permitted marijuana businesses open in Kenai before city regulations are in place, those businesses may be retroactively exempt from additional city restrictions.

“It’s a little bit of a wait-and-see, without us being behind the ball in taking action on that,” Porter said of her moratorium.

Before the council votes on Porter’s moratorium proposal, it will discuss its general marijuana policy at a work session on Dec. 17.

 

Megan Pacer contributed to this report.

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

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