Council to recommend no onsite smoking, vaping or dabbing of marijuana

Editor's note: The headline has been changed to clarify that the council opposes onsite consumption of smoking, dabbing and vaping at commercial cannabis retail establishments.

There was much discussion and a bit of confusion in Homer City Hall on Monday as council members debated the details of a letter they will send to Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board weighing in on its discussion of regulations regarding onsite consumption in the state’s marijuana facilities.

The city’s Cannabis Advisory Commission forwarded Memorandum 17-122 to the council at its Sept. 11 meeting asking council members to approve its recommendation to send a letter to the board opposing onsite use of marijuana that would include smoking it. Homer Police Chief Mark Robl had brought up concerns about officers possibly becoming intoxicated by second hand smoke if they had to respond to a marijuana facility. Officers in Alaska are prohibited from using marijuana and would have to be placed on leave if they tested positive, he said.

The council postponed voting on whether to send the letter opposing onsite smoking to the MCB at its last meeting because the letter included that the council would support other onsite consumption including vaping. Council members said they wanted more research done on vaping and whether it could also cause intoxication before they voted.

The council ultimately voted 4-3 to send the letter, after it was amended, with Mayor Bryan Zak breaking a 3-3 tie with his yes vote. Before the memorandum was approved, council member Donna Aderhold made three amendments to it to change the wording so that the letter will oppose onsite comsumption of marijuana including smoking, vaping or the use of marijuana concentrates, known as dabbing. The letter will not oppose other forms of consumption.

“Basically all you are saying is that you can consume edibles onsite,” said council member David Lewis. “At the marijuana commission meeting we discussed this with the police chief — it came up that they were worried about the second hand smoke. There was nothing mentioned about the vaping or the dabbing or anything else.”

In a memo to City Manager Katie Koester, Robl wrote that there currently aren’t reliable scientific studies to refer to when it comes to vaping or dabbing, as they have not been the subject to many studies yet.

“I will not oppose allowing vaping or dabbing but I would prefer to see some scientific data supporting the safety of our first responders to vapors before it is allowed as a form on on-site consumption in Homer,” he wrote.

Council member Tom Stroozas also said at the Monday meeting that he would prefer to see more science on vaping before it’s included in onsite consumption. Council member Heath Smith spoke at length about the dangers of cross-fading, or mixing alcohol with marijuana, and cited that as his reason for not supporting the memorandum as he perceived that allowing onsite consumption at all would create “mixing zones” in Homer.

After the vote, some council members said they were confused about the fact that the vote meant they were sending a letter to the MCB only opposing onsite smoking, vaping or dabbing of marijuana, but not opposing edible consumption. Smith, Stroozas and council member Shelley Erickson were the three no votes against sending the letter.

The Marijuana Control Board has discussed onsite consumption in the past and is now revisiting the issue. If the board goes through with the regulations, Alaska would be the first state to allow onsite consumption of cannabis in marijuana establishments. Denver voters passed an initiative to allow social marijuana use in willing bars and restaurants, but the state introduced a regulation keeping establishments with liquor licenses from allowing the consumption of marijuana on their premises.

The board will take public comments on onsite consumption until Oct. 27.

Other items of note at the meeting include:

— Koester introduced the city’s fiscal year 2018 draft budget. The projected revenues for FY 2018 are about $24.1 million, while projected expenditures come out to $25.2 million. Koester said this is a relatively status quo budget that has not increased much from last year. She said operating expenditures grew by half a percent from last year’s budget. There are also no new city staff positions included in the 2018 budget.

— The council passed in its consent agenda a resolution that establishes a guiding policy for dealing with incorrectly billed water and sewer accounts when the city makes a mistake. Resolution 17-083 stipulates that the city must notify a water and sewer customer within 60 days of noticing a billing error on the city’s behalf, and also states that the city can only bill that user for up to two months of the correct charges it lost. For example, if a water user was under-billed for three months, the city could bill that user for the correct charges from two of those months.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@homernews.com.

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