Marijuana advocates are planning to fill Tuesday’s Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting for the introduction of an ordinance that, if enacted, would be put to the voters to decide in October if commercial marijuana cultivation should be prohibited within the borough.
The ordinance, sponsored by assembly member Kelly Wolf, intends to exercise the option written in the marijuana initiative that grants municipalities the authority to govern certain aspects of the pot industry within its own boundaries. Wolf said he envisions zoning issues pertaining to marijuana farms and that rural property owners will come to the borough with concerns of where such facilities would operate. The ordinance is set for a public hearing on Feb. 24 — the day marijuana becomes legal in Alaska.
Wolf said it was a coincidence that the public hearing date happened to land on legalization day. He said he plans to postpone the ordinance until March after an agricultural farmer approached him because he would be out of town when the ordinance was scheduled for public testimony.
“Out of respect and fairness to the public I’m going to request it for the first meeting in March,” Wolf said. “As the author I can kick it down the road. The Kenai Peninsula is not known as agricultural area and I want to hear from farmers.”
The Kenai Community Coalition on Cannabis, a group of more than 140 members, has expressed its opposition to the ordinance. The group has structured a second town hall meeting Monday at the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai to address concerns associated with how the marijuana industry could operate, and educate the public on the plant.
Coalition co-founder Marc Theiler said he hopes to carry momentum from one meeting to the next and get as many people in front of the assembly as possible to make a statement.
“It’s important to let local lawmakers know where we stand and be able to voice our opinions,” Theiler said. “Mixed in with the state’s budget crisis, we need all the revenue we can get and this is a way to get it out of the black market.”
If the ordinance made it on the ballot and passed by voters, marijuana cultivation with intent to resale would be banned outside of city limits. Wolf said home rule cities like Kenai and Seward will have the option to enact any municipal regulations.
“This didn’t pass with overwhelming support,” Wolf said of how the Kenai Peninsula voted on Ballot Measure 2. “Everyone has the individual right to make its own decisions.”
The organizer of a new marijuana growing club on the Kenai Peninsula believes Wolf’s ordinance is premature and based on misplaced fears.
Dolly Fleck-Phelps heads the Women’s Grow chapter in Kenai which provides resources to help people get into the cannabis industry. The club is a branch from the Anchorage chapter of the national organization. Members will meet monthly to discuss issues pertaining to cannabis cultivation, Fleck-Phelps said.
She said banning grow farms from areas outside of city limits is not a good idea because, in her opinion, those are the best places for cultivation.
“I’m trying to see (Wolf’s) side of it,” she said. “Cultivations have to be incognito. The initiative stated they have to be private and people shouldn’t be able to tell from the outside of the building. We want to work together with lawmakers and come to a fair and functional solution for everybody.”
Fleck-Phelps said she is going to give a presentation at the next coalition meeting about the “new face of cannabis” and she hopes to break down the stereotypes associated with marijuana users.
“It’s not fair the bad rap people have been labeled all these years,” she said. “I hope we can shed a little light and show some of the most productive members of society consume cannabis.”
Theiler said he sent a letter to Wolf and other local lawmakers to participate in a question-and-answer session with the public at the next town hall meeting. He said the reply from Wolf implied he felt he was called out and took offense.
Wolf said he hasn’t committed to whether he will be able to attend the Monday meeting, but hoped to engage in a constructive dialogue with both sides of the issue.
“We are all adults here,” he said. “I don’t want to be called out like I’m on an elementary playground. This isn’t the OK Corral.”
Member of the coalition had planned an end of the prohibition celebration with a “smoke-easy” gathering on Feb. 24, but opted to delay the party one day after seeing the ordinance public hearing was scheduled for the same night. Fleck-Phelps said the group came to a consensus that if that was the day testimony would be heard they would be in attendance to present their views. When the celebration does take place the event would be catered and have live music for people to enjoy.
“The best part is nobody will be hung over the next day,” she said.
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org