Regulators to take applications for pot businesses

JUNEAU — A regulatory board in Alaska today will begin accepting applications for marijuana business licenses — the next step in setting up the state’s legal pot industry.

Leif Abel has the date marked on his calendar. He and his partners have been building a facility on the Kenai Peninsula for their company, Greatland Ganja. To apply for a license, prospective business operators need to have secured a site.

That has proven to be a challenge in some parts of the state due to location and zoning restrictions, local community bans or wary property owners.

Abel, who is with the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, said there’s a lot of risk for would-be business owners.

“I would say that your average business person would look at it and turn around and do something that was much less risky,” said Abel, who also farms and has a building company.

But he and others say they’re passionate about the industry and want to be a part of it.

It will still be months before pot can legally be purchased in Alaska by those 21 and older. While the state’s Marijuana Control Board will start accepting business applications Wednesday, it will be three weeks before any applications initiated then are deemed complete due to noticing requirements under state regulations. Once an application is considered complete, the board has 90 days to decide whether to accept or deny it.

Under a tentative timeline laid out by the board’s director, the board would consider the first cultivation and testing licenses in June with approval of the first retail and product manufacturing facility licenses sometime in September.

The board is seeking a legislative fix that will allow it to conduct national criminal history check for applicants. A state Senate committee plans to hear a bill that would address that issue Wednesday.

Many prospective owners have been deeply involved in the rule-making process and in work at the community level, attending meetings, providing public testimony and trying to educate state and local leaders about marijuana.

James Barrett, who with his brother, Giono Barrett, envisions a retail, processing and cultivation business in Juneau, said they know so much about cannabis, they feel a responsibility to be a part of the process. After voters in 2014 approved legalizing recreational use of marijuana, James Barrett said they quickly had to learn how government works, when to talk, who to talk to and how to read laws. He said he probably learned more in the last year than in the years he went to college.

Kim Kole of Anchorage said people she’s talked to are having trouble keeping investors on board and finding property. Over the last year, a number of investors Kole had lined up fell through. But Kole, a teacher, has remained optimistic and had meetings lined up this week. On Tuesday, she said she had received an offer she couldn’t refuse. She plans to initiate an application soon.

Sara Williams said she has her investment money. She’s just looking for a location.

Williams, the CEO of Midnight Greenery, lives in Wasilla. But there are local prohibitions there and a local ballot initiative has created uncertainty. If approved, it would ban marijuana businesses in areas of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough outside of cities. She is looking for shop space about 45 miles away in Anchorage. She has found limited options.

She plans to fight the borough initiative and keep looking for places in Anchorage. She said she may end up having to find more money to purchase a building.

“By no means do we feel like it’s hopeless,” she said. “It’s just hard.”

She noted there was once a prohibition on alcohol, which is now legal and regulated.

“Somebody has to start the movement and be a part of it,” she said.

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