Still plenty to sort out with alcohol, marijuana regulations

  • Saturday, November 14, 2015 4:50pm
  • Opinion

A pair of local legislative bodies this week began wrestling with proposed changes in how communities regulate sales of alcohol and marijuana. Neither body — the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly or Soldotna City Council — has reached consensus on the issues, but a healthy debate is now under way.

The borough assembly voted to introduce an ordinance to change borough code requiring liquor stores to be at least 500 feet from schools or churches. The proposed ordinance, which will have a public hearing at the Dec. 8 assembly meeting, would reduce the minimum required distance to 300 feet. The issue recently was on the assembly’s radar after a Ninilchik business owner had a liquor license transfer application rejected.

In introducing the measure, assembly member Dale Bagley questioned whether 500 feet was an arbitrary distance, and said his goal is to have a good discussion on the topic.

In Soldotna, the city council debated three ordinances all relating to commercial marijuana regulation. Since marijuana was legalized for recreational use last November, municipal governments across Alaska have had to grapple with drafting regulations that work for their communities while waiting for regulators to finalize state rules.

Soldotna is looking at three competing ordinances — one to establish the city as the local regulatory authority, one establishing a moratorium on commercial sales within the city, and one that would limit the number of marijuana businesses in city limits.

The Soldotna council and the borough assembly are dealing with different substances, and are coming at the issues from different angles. The assembly is simply considering a tweak to a substance that has been regulated for a long time; the Soldotna council is developing regulations from scratch for a substance only recently legalized.

But the question each body is facing are the same: are the rules, whether already on the books or still on the drawing board, fair?

In the case of distance requirements for liquor stores, does that extra 200 feet make a difference? Does it unreasonably restrict the owner of a business? What’s reasoning behind the distance requirement in the first place?

Likewise in Soldotna, are the restrictions being considered reasonable? Is limiting the number of marijuana businesses by ordinance fair, or should that be left to the market to determine? Is a two-year moratorium the right answer?

Each body will be formulating its own answers to that question in the coming months. We hope its done with a productive, open dialogue — one that addresses legitimate concerns and gives all sides on the issues a fair hearing.

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