Kenai temporarily bans in-store pot smoking

Marijuana businesses that may open in Kenai in the coming year won’t be able to offer space for customers to try the product on-site, at least until 2017. In its meeting Wednesday, the Kenai City council passed a moratorium banning consumption of marijuana products at marijuana retail stores for a year.

When the state start accepting commercial marijuana license applications on Feb. 24, marijuana stores may be allowed to let patrons use products at their location, if the store is permitted for on-site consumption through a procedure that the state’s Marijuana Control Board has yet to establish. If a prospective marijuana business seeking an on-site consumption permit tries to open in Kenai, the city can file an objection with the state Marijuana Control Board. Under state regulations, the city’s objection will cause the license to be denied.

Kenai’s moratorium also applies to marijuana clubs, in which members trade and use marijuana products without buying or selling them. Current state regulations don’t license marijuana clubs, but if they are licensed in the future, the ordinance specifies that Kenai can object to them in the same way.

The moratorium is set to last a year, although the council can vote to extend it or to end it early. Kenai mayor Pat Porter, who introduced the ordinance, wrote in an attached memo that the moratorium is meant to prohibit in-store consumption “at least until further guidance is provided by the State, or the City enacts its own regulations protecting consumers, the public, first responders and employees of (marijuana) establishments from potential health and safety threats.”

In response to a question from council member Brian Gabriel, Kenai city attorney Scott Bloom said at Wednesday’s meeting that he didn’t know of a state timeline for establishing regulations for an on-site consumption permit.

“My understanding, based my conversations with the director of the Marijuana Control Board, is that (the language of the on-site consumption allowance) was added at the last minute as a placeholder, and that they anticipate coming out with further regulations, but I don’t know when those are anticipated or what they might look like,” Bloom said.

Bloom recommended the moratorium, saying “I think it’s appropriate to have a moratorium at least until we can see what those regulations are.”

Kenai Police Chief Gus Sandahl and acting Fire Chief Tony Prior both wrote memos supporting the moratorium because of concern about the effect of marijuana smoke on fire fighters or police officers who may respond to incidents in shops where marijuana products could be used.

Bloom added that city employees who hold commercial drivers licences are subject to random drug tests. Because marijuana is federally illegal, and standards for commercial driver’s licenses are set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, commercial drivers can lose the license if they test positive for marijuana. Prior said firefighters are among the city employees who are randomly drug-tested, although Sandahl said police officers aren’t.

Council member Terry Bookey — a fire captain in the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Central Emergency Services — opposed the moratorium and said it would not shield first responders from marijuana smoke.

“I’ve been a firefighter since 2002,” Bookey said.

“The legal consumption of marijuana has been enacted since 2015. I have been exposed to cannabis smoke more times than I can count responding to private residences and private facilities… A moratorium in that manner is not going to protect our first responders from exposure to marijuana. I responded just two days ago to a home where someone was consuming marijuana. That’s going to happen, and it will remain whether you can consume marijuana in a commercial establishment or not.”

Council member Bob Molloy, another opponent of the moratorium, said he was “philosophically opposed” to it.

“It’s a restriction on the rights and liberties of individual business owners to pursue the establishment and operation of a business in the city of Kenai,” Molloy said. “I think it’s unreasonable and not necessary.”

Molloy gave a practical objections as well: the moratorium prohibits all cannabis use in retail stores, including edibles and liquids which can’t have second-hand effects. He also said the ordinance’s statement that “the City Council shall file a protest with the director of the Marijuana Control Board… against the application for a Retail Marijuana Store license” of any store or club allowing on-site consumption would violate a rule that an ordinance can’t bind the actions of future city councils. Bloom agreed with Molloy, recommending that the word “shall” be changed to “may,” making the objection optional. The change was made unanimously.

The amended moratorium passed, with council members Molloy, Bookey, Mike Boyle, and student representative Hannah Drury voting against it.

At the council’s next meeting on Jan 20, members will debate and vote on a larger commercial marijuana policy including zoning restrictions on marijuana establishments and setbacks from schools, churches, playgrounds, correctional facilities, substance abuse treatment centers, swimming pools, and public housing.

 

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

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