Assembly approves pot rules

The night before entrepreneurs across Alaska were able to apply for marijuana business licenses, the Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly affirmed its local regulations.

With a few exceptions, marijuana businesses in the Kenai Peninsula Borough will be regulated similarly to the way the state has chosen to regulate them.

However, marijuana businesses will be required to be 1,000 feet from schools, double the distance required by the state, and to have an approach of at least 28 feet wide as well as sufficient space and routes for loading trucks to come in without blocking the public way. 

The 1,000 feet around schools and the state’s required 500 feet around recreation or youth centers, buildings in which religious services are regularly conducted or correctional facilities will be measured by the shortest walking route rather than a straight line.

The borough assembly also opted to be the body which will comment to the state about license applications rather than the borough’s Planning Commission. The original draft of the ordinance had listed the Planning Commission as the regulatory body, but assembly member Dale Bagley said he felt this cut out the assembly too much and differed from the way alcohol licenses were issued or protested.

“I think it’s appropriate that we make the assembly the final say on some of this stuff,” Bagley said at the assembly’s Tuesday meeting. “I just think the assembly is accountable to the voters and while the Planning Commission, while appointed by the mayor and approved by the assembly, they’re not accountable to the voters.”

The Planning Commission has been designated as the local administrative regulatory authority. After some discussion about consistency, the assembly approved it unanimously, with the addendum that both 

the Planning Commission at the assembly will review the applications.

The remainder of the discussion circulated around the discussion of where and when marijuana businesses can operate, known as “time, place and manner.” The assembly-approved regulations will restrict marijuana establishments from operating within local option zoning districts as well as the buffer zones around schools, recreational or youth centers, buildings where religious services are regularly conducted and correctional facilities.

However, several assembly members objected to another clause that required a 300-foot buffer around local option zones. Members of the public testified against that requirement multiple times throughout the night. Nearly 60 people attended the assembly meeting, most of whom spoke on topics related to marijuana.

Dollynda Phelps, a Nikiski resident, advocated for the removal of the 300-foot buffer because it would infringe on people who are not part of local option zones.

“This is problematic because if you have a neighborhood and they want to pass a local option zone … that’s fine, but they have no right to interfere with what somebody else is doing on their property that is not even part of this neighborhood,” Phelps said.

Others supported the buffer zone as a protective barrier for neighborhoods that want to keep marijuana away from their homes. Still others wanted the borough assembly to restrict marijuana as much as possible for the safety of children.

An amendment to remove that requirement, presented by assembly member Kelly Cooper of Homer, removed that buffer.

“I still believe that we have not done our work at the local option zoning portion of this, and I don’t believe it needs to be addressed here,” Cooper said. “If we are going to have buffer zones that are going to be addressed in the local option zoning for particular types of businesses, I think it can be addressed at that stage.”

Cooper’s amendment also initially removed the prohibition of marijuana establishments in local option zones. Assembly member Brent Johnson said it needed to stay in so those seeking to form a local option zone to keep marijuana out of their neighborhoods have that option. His amendment passed, and as Cooper’s amendment passed, the prohibition on marijuana businesses in local option zones remains.

Assembly member Gary Knopp also proposed an amendment to ban on-site consumption of marijuana products. 

“I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Knopp said. “I don’t think that we need to be consuming it where we’re purchasing it and trying it. I don’t know if it will have an impact … but this would allow us to protest that with the state.”

Several assembly members objected that the regulation was substantive and had not gone out for public notice, so the public did not get a chance to weigh in on it. The assembly voted down the amendment on the rationale that it could add that regulation later if there is a problem in the future.

Elizabeth Earl is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.