Marijuana regulation to remain on schedule

  • By DAN BALMER
  • Saturday, January 3, 2015 9:05pm
  • News

Following a meeting with state leaders to discuss the timeline for marijuana regulations, Gov. Bill Walker on Tuesday announced the implementation of the regulations will remain on schedule.

Walker’s meeting with representatives from the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, the Department of Revenue and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board was aimed at gauging where the agencies are in developing policies when the law goes into effect Feb. 24.

“We have strong, cooperative leadership heading up implementation of this very important act,” Walker said in a Tuesday press release. “They assured me that we can meet the statutory and regulatory timelines outlined in the initiative that voters passed in November. I’m confident that we can be diligent in our efforts to make sure we have adequate regulations for this new industry in place and on time.”

Once marijuana is officially legalized beginning Feb. 24, the ABC board has nine months — until Nov. 24, 2015 — to adopt regulations for the sale of marijuana. The board anticipates accepting applications for marijuana licenses by Feb. 24, 2016 with the initial industry licenses to be awarded by late May 2016, according to the press release from the Gov. Walker’s office.

The ABC board has been tasked with the implementation of regulations until a Marijuana Control Board is established. The board will be housed within the DCCED, which is leading the effort to adopt regulations for the industry launch while still “upholding public safety and supporting public health,” according to the release.

The Department of Public Safety, Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Environmental Conservation are also working with the DCCED on enforcement, according to the release.

Marc Theiler, co-founder of the Kenai Community Coalition on Cannabis, said he was pleasantly surprised with Walker’s comments on the regulatory timeline and called the news positive for the cannabis movement because it shows the governor has confidence in the leadership in place. He said he had spoken with the ABC Board Director Cynthia Franklin and came away impressed with her enthusiastic demeanor and background as a state prosecutor.

“She is tough, dynamic and capable to get the job done,” he said. “(Walker’s comments) told me he has the same confidence. It was a bold statement.”

While the state begins the regulatory process, the coalition has taken a proactive step to educate the community on how the cannabis industry could operate. Theiler and Soldotna lawyer Eric Derleth have organized a series of town hall meetings to address concerns people have with how the sale of marijuana will be regulated.

More than 120 people attended the first town hall meeting on Dec. 17 at the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai. Theiler said he hopes to hear more from those who oppose marijuana legalization at the next meeting, which is tentatively set for Jan. 19, one day before the Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly meeting.

The coalition started a Facebook page in early December and currently has 88 members. Theiler said since the first meeting, people have continued the conversation on the group’s page by sharing studies and articles about marijuana. He said its interesting to see the group develop and the comments have encouraged a lot of dialogue about what people would like to see in their community.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, attended the first coalition meeting and found it interesting to hear the different viewpoints. He said it was a good meeting for people who don’t know a lot about cannabis and where they stood on the issue.

While he will be heading to Juneau for the legislative session before the next town hall meeting, Chenault said he is always interested in talking about the issue and hearing what people have to say. He said people have voiced concerns about edibles and he expects the Legislature will take a look at the issue.

“I expect marijuana will take up a considerable amount of our time,” he said. “I don’t know what the regulations will look like at the end of the day but the subject will create a lot of discussion.”

Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly member Kelly Wolf, who represents the Kalifornsky district, has said he will bring an ordinance to the assembly that aims to ban marijuana cultivation with the intent to resale. Wolf said he predicts property owners will come to the borough with zoning issues and concerns about marijuana growing farms popping up in subdivisions, which could affect property values.

“If (someone) started a marijuana grow operation in their backyard, what is the street side appeal if I decide to sell my home?” Wolf said in a Dec. 17 interview. “I don’t question people can use (marijuana) responsibly. I choose not to. Homer voted for it and I think they tipped it over. If they want to be the growing capital of the Kenai Peninsula, more power to them. Lots of people on the Kenai Peninsula really don’t want it.”

Wolf said he intends to consult with legal advisers and introduce the ordinance early this year.

Theiler said the plan for the next meeting is to formally invite Wolf and any other local legislators who oppose the cannabis enterprise for an open debate with a question and answer session to allow for them to hear from the community in an open format.

Theiler said they will send out emails to people who signed up at the first meeting to encourage them to join working groups that delve into specific categories with topics that interest them. The categories are intended to address concerns heard at the first meeting from how people use marijuana for medical use, edibles, packaging and labeling, transportation, work safety and address appropriate zoning for marijuana dispensaries, he said.

Groups of three to eight people would be tasked with researching their specific topic and present their findings to elected officials so they have the best available information, he said.

The goal is to provide more information to deconstruct the concerns people have about marijuana and help people take action on their own opinions about how pot should be regulated in their communities as regulations start to be figured out, he said.

“It’s important the community hears from our legislators and ask them critical questions about what their vision of a business model could look like,” he said. “(Local politicians) showing up is a big deal.”

For more information on the marijuana initiative visit: http://commerce.state.ak.us/dnn/abc/resources/MarijuanaInitiativeFAQs.aspx

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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