Senate addresses 2 issues raised by regulator in pot bill

JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate passed legislation Wednesday that would allow regulators of Alaska’s up-and-coming legal marijuana industry to obtain national criminal history checks on those applying for marijuana business licenses.

The 18-2 vote came the same day that prospective business owners could begin applying for licenses.

A law passed last year prohibited the issuance of licenses to individuals who have had felony convictions within five years of their application or are on probation or parole for that felony. But the Department of Law said specific authority was needed in state law to require fingerprinting and the use of Federal Bureau of Investigation records for national checks. The bill — a rewrite of HB 75 — is meant to address that issue.

If the House doesn’t agree to the changes passed by the Senate, House and Senate negotiators will be assigned to try to reach a compromise.

Other provisions of the bill include a prohibition on marijuana businesses in the unorganized borough outside of municipalities. Established villages would be allowed to decide whether to opt-in. The bill also addresses the household limit for marijuana plants.

Areas of the state not within the boundaries of an organized borough constitute what’s known as the unorganized borough. Over half of the state’s area is designated as the unorganized borough, according to the state commerce department.

Tim Hinterberger, a sponsor of the ballot initiative that legalized recreational pot for those 21 and older, expressed disappointment with the unorganized borough language.

“We think this maneuver undermines the purpose of the voter initiative and is a disservice to residents who should have reasonable access,” he said in a statement. “We think the offensive provision overshadows the positive features of HB 75, and we hope it will be removed before this bill is allowed to become law.”

Cynthia Franklin, director of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, said the bill addresses two needs identified by marijuana regulators: national background checks and guidance on established villages.

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