Soldotna introduces ordinance to continue pot ban

The Soldotna City Council has introduced an ordinance that would turn the city’s two-year moratorium on marijuana businesses into an indefinite prohibition of commercial production, testing and sale of marijuana within city limits.

The moratorium, set to expire on Jan. 1, 2018, was enacted with the intention of allowing the city to gauge how commercial marijuana was regulated by the state, borough and surrounding cities before Soldotna penned its own rules. After the two years, the council has decided to move forward with a permanent ban via regulation.

A public hearing on the ordinance will be held on Sept. 13, but many proponents of the marijuana industry were present at Wednesday night’s meeting to voice their concerns with the ordinance.

“You put a two-year moratorium on it at that time and said, ‘Let’s wait and see,’” said Brian Olson, owner of Soldotna winery Alaska Berries. “The central peninsula hasn’t fallen apart, the jails aren’t full of people that have caused crime because of cannabis and there are tax payers’ money pouring in.”

Patricia Patterson, owner of the marijuana retail store High Bush Buds, introduced herself to the council as “your cannabis industry.”

“I am the only one affected,” Patterson said. “It’s me, it’s just me and my six employees. I don’t know why you’re trying to hurt me.”

Patterson explained that her store is located on Irons Avenue, outside of city limits, but her location falls within one of the nearby areas being considered for annexation by the city.

“It’s not an industry for you, it’s not huge. It’s just me. It’s just one business,” Patterson said. “That’s all that would be affected through this moratorium and annexation.”

Council member Paul Whitney said although the area is one of nine in discussion for annexation, the likelihood that Patterson would have to shut her doors is low.

“I think we’ve said this once before, that building probably would not be annexed. There’s nine particular areas and that is just one of them,” Whitney said.

Vice Mayor Linda Murphy responded to Patterson’s concerns saying that the council has no intentions of hurting Patterson’s business.

“I’m not in favor of putting anyone out of business,” Murphy said.

Other community members argued that the ordinance would, effectively, lose the city money.

“I’m just generally concerned about the opportunity cost regarding lost tax revenue that would be incurred should the city press forward,” Soldotna resident Jordan Chilson said. “I feel that, just generally given the current fiscal climate of the state, it would be unwise to turn the door on the opportunity that could greatly contribute to the long term financial sustainability of our city.”

Murphy, though, expressed her concerns over the nature of commercial marijuana’s profits and federal regulations regarding the marijuana industry. Since marijuana is illegal at a federal level, most banks prefer to steer clear of the industry resulting in cash-only operations.

“I think that is problematic and I might have a little bit different view if the federal government would change its stance,” Murphy said. “Then banks could deal with those businesses, because I think that’s just inviting other problems.”

The vice mayor, though, did quell the thoughts that her worries stemmed from ignorance of the affects of marijuana.

“I went to college in the ’60s, enough said,” Murphy said.

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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