Lawmakers hear from community officials on marijuana rules

  • By Molly Dischner
  • Tuesday, February 3, 2015 11:55pm
  • News

JUNEAU, Alaska — Local government officials want the Legislature to make some of the decisions about marijuana regulations but leave other choices to individual communities.

Alaska voters decided in November to legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults 21 years and older. The law takes effect Feb. 24. The measure also allowed for individual communities to prohibit commercial activity associated with the drug and to create regulations regarding consumption.

The House Community and Regional Affairs Committee is vetting a bill to address how communities get involved in the regulation process, and it is also trying to gather information on what communities are looking for in the state’s regulations, said committee chair Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla.

The House Health and Social Services Committee also held a hearing on marijuana Tuesday, where it discussed a bill that would delay regulations for marijuana concentrates by up to a year from the November deadline for implementation of other commercial regulations.

During the community and regional affairs hearing, Matanuska-Susitna Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss said the borough’s assembly wants the Legislature to restrict packaging that entices minors and clarify whether an ounce of marijuana applies to concentrates.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough Attorney Nick Spiropoulos said the borough also wants the Legislature to define what constitutes a public place. Under the initiative, “public” consumption is banned. The borough wants to focus on commerce issues, like land-use regulation and business districts, he said.

Spiropolous said there is also concern about which local governments will be allowed to set rules. If each city makes its own rules, regulations could be inconsistent within a single borough, he said.

“That may not be the best thing, because it’s inconsistent as you cross borders,” Spiropoulos said. “It might be tough to get a handle on what the rules are depending on what piece of ground you’re standing on and where a line is on the map.”

But Palmer Mayor DeLena Johnson said it’s important for communities to be able to opt out of the marijuana industry, even if the borough wants to opt in. Johnson also said Palmer has a smoking ordinance on the books that the city wants to apply to marijuana and doesn’t want the borough to have the power to change that.

Anchorage Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler said the city uses conditional-use permits, which are related to land-use regulations, to decide whether an establishment serving alcohol fits into an area. A similar process could be used for regulating marijuana establishments, he said.

The Health and Social Services hearing focused on committee chair Rep. Paul Seaton’s bill to separate and delay the regulations for marijuana concentrates.

Cynthia Franklin, executive director of the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control board, said that’s not necessary. The voter initiative passed in August delegated the commercialization rules to the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control board, or gave the Legislature the option of creating a marijuana board to handle the duties.

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