(File photo)

(File photo)

Kenai mulls future of marijuana drive-thrus

The state has made permanent COVID-era rules that allowed marijuana establishments to offer drive-thru and walk-up services

The City of Kenai is considering whether or not to allow the city’s marijuana establishments to operate drive-thru or walk-up windows in light of new state rules allowing such services.

The State of Alaska during the COVID-19 pandemic implemented rules that allowed Alaska’s marijuana establishments to offer drive-thru and walk-up services so customers would not need to enter the business to make a purchase. Last month, the state made those regulations permanent.

According to documents provided to Kenai City Council members from the State of Alaska, the permanent regulation changes were greenlit by the Alaska Department of Law on July 13 and took effect on Aug. 13. Existing retailers already operating drive-thrus or walk-ups must fill out new documentation with the state, while new retailers will need to include such features in premise designs.

Kenai City Attorney Scott Bloom told Kenai City Council members during their regular meeting last week that the city could either do nothing and accept the state’s new regulations, or they could implement Kenai-specific restrictions on marijuana establishments with regard to drive-thru or walk-up services.

Kenai’s Planning and Zoning Commission, Bloom said, has requested a moratorium while they review the new rules.

Under the new state regulations, Bloom said, any existing marijuana business in the city could pursue a walk-up or drive-thru service option, however, it would require the city to approve amendments to that business’ existing conditional use permit.

“If you did nothing and somebody wanted to do it, they would have to come back to (Planning and Zoning) and have their conditional use permit amended,” Bloom said. “If you wanted to prohibit it, that’s something council could do. If you want to regulate it differently than what the state does, that’s also something you could do in the future.”

Ryan Tunseth owns East Rip, a marijuana retail business in Kenai, and serves as president of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association’s Board of Directors. Tunseth told council members that the association, when it considered the same regulation, came down in favor of allowing marijuana establishments to operate drive-thru or walk-up locations.

Tunseth said that, logistically, it may be difficult for businesses interested in offering drive-thru or walk-up services to add those accommodations.

“I’m not going to be able to do it in my business,” Tunseth told council members. “So I don’t intend to do it and I’m not sure that there’s anybody else that’s intending to do it right now. For a lot of reasons, I think it’s kind of difficult the way they wrote the regulation to do it, but also just don’t really have the space to do it.”

Council member James Baisden expressed interest in restricting drive-thru and walk-up windows for marijuana establishments because businesses are most concerned with profits. Council member Alex Douthit said he was feeling similarly and that his concerns had to do with public safety.

“I think it’s right up there with similar reasons for not having drive-thru liquor stores,” Douthit said. “We don’t want to encourage any more than we have to for possibility of DUIs and those kinds of things.”

Bloom said the city has not yet received any applications from businesses looking to update their conditional use permit to allow drive-thru operations.

Kenai City Council meetings can be streamed on the city’s YouTube channel.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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