If this week’s meeting about retail marijuana in downtown Fairbanks was any indication, there will be plenty of discussion before the community is on the same page with regard to its policy for commercial sale of the newly legal drug. While some are excited about the potential for new business in the city core, others are concerned about detrimental effects of the businesses or their clientele on other retail establishments and young people in the area. By starting the discussion now and involving stakeholders from different sectors of the Fairbanks community, residents will have the best chance at crafting a policy amenable to the vast majority of those who live and work here.
Already, the timetable for commercial marijuana that seemed drawn out to some when voters approved Ballot Measure 2 in 2014 is drawing shorter. By this time next year, assuming the state’s dates for issuing commercial licenses hold, there will be retail marijuana establishments opening their doors in Fairbanks, some of them in the downtown core.
Having marijuana businesses in downtown is a prospect that’s exciting for some and frightening for others. Much of that fear comes from uncertainty: will commercial sale of marijuana lead to an increase in public impairment in the vicinity of commercial establishments? Despite the ban on sales to people younger than 21, will substantial quantities of the drug find their way into the hands of teenagers? Will the presence of pot shops lead other businesses to relocate or drive down sales for those that stay?
These questions can’t be fully answered until residents see how retail marijuana will work in practice. What can be done, however, is to identify and avoid as many potential pitfalls as possible. Bans on advertising or packaging deemed to be appealing or confusing to young people would be wise. Clear indications of how much of a marijuana strain or edible constitutes a dose are essential to preventing accidental overindulgence.
To be sure, there are potential benefits of retail marijuana establishments. As a new industry, marijuana could bring new interest, traffic and spillover business to downtown. If marijuana businesses are good neighbors and encourage responsible consumption, they can help educate their clientele on how to exercise their new freedom safely and without negative effects on themselves or others. There’s no reason the relationship between pot shops and other businesses has to be contentious or adversarial — responsible operation of the new enterprises should work to minimize behavior that would bring marijuana businesses into conflict with others.
Still, there are bound to be conflicts. Some are fundamentally opposed to the operation of marijuana businesses, and there are likely some marijuana entrepreneurs who won’t be considerate of their neighbors. One attendee at Monday’s meeting said he was thinking of opening an arcade as a blocking action to keep marijuana businesses from opening near his businesses, as a pending zoning ordinance would establish buffer zones around places frequented by children.
Not all of the issues will be worked out before the first commercial licenses for marijuana production and sale are issued. But if community stakeholders continue the conversation about zoning and regulation currently underway and involve the public as much as possible, it will do much to bring Fairbanks to a place where as many residents as possible are on board with the new rules.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,