Board advances in-store pot use

JUNEAU — The Alaska Marijuana Control Board has voted unanimously to ask the public to comment on draft regulations allowing recreational marijuana users to enjoy pot products inside retail stores.

The regulations are the first of their kind in the United States and are a rough equivalent to the nation’s first legal pot cafes.

Once formalized, public comment will open in the coming weeks. After the public comment period expires, the board will consider the regulations again before approving or disavowing them for good.

“I think this is probably one of the provisions that is going to give elected officials the most angst, and I don’t want to disappoint them by doing it wrong,” said board chairman Bruce Schulte before joining other members in approving the draft.

When Alaska voters approved recreational marijuana use in 2014 with Ballot Measure 2, the state began a two-year process leading to the opening of the state’s first retail marijuana stores.

The first commercial marijuana cultivation businesses will receive their licenses in the second week of June; the first retail businesses will begin selling marijuana in the second week of September.

As the board began drafting regulations to define the new industry, prospective business owners approached the board and said they were concerned that tourists and renters might not have a place to use legal marijuana.

The state permits the sale of marijuana, but consumption “in public” is prohibited, and the state has adopted an expansive definition of “public” that leaves few legal spaces outside one’s home. 

In response to concerns about selling people marijuana they have no place to use, the board voted 3-2 in November to carve a narrow exemption into the definition of “public.”

That exemption allows retail stores to apply for an “onsite consumption endorsement” to their licenses. 

If a store receives that endorsement, it can set aside an area for people to consume marijuana.

Under the draft regulations sent for public comment, the area must be enclosed, with a separate door, a ventilation system and oversight by staff.

On-site consumers will be limited to a limited “menu” and held to a much tighter purchase limit than regular retail customers in order to prevent stoned driving and other problems with overconsumption.

The on-site consumption area will also be restricted in ways similar to alcohol bars. Stores will not be able to give away marijuana, serve intoxicated customers, give “happy hour” discounts or discounts for special customers.

In Juneau, the consumption area will also be subject to the City and Borough of Juneau’s strict antismoking rules, which prohibit indoor tobacco and marijuana use, even if an area is set aside for that use. Without a change to the CBJ’s regulations, a consumption area in Juneau would be open to edible and drinkable marijuana products only.

When the board voted to create the on-site endorsement in November, board member Loren Jones, also a City and Borough of Juneau assemblyman, voted against the idea.

On April 27, he joined all other board members in voting to send the regulations to public comment.

He said by phone that his views on the endorsement haven’t changed, but he thinks it’s time for the public to have its say.

Jones said he hoped there will be enough comments related to the definition of public to change the board’s mind.

In other business last week, the board approved several companies planning to offer marijuana-handling training required of all marijuana licensees and store employees.

As of April 20, the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office has received 277 applications for marijuana licenses. One hundred and sixty-three of those are for cultivation facilities; three are for testing facilities. 

Retail and marijuana product manufacturing licenses (bakeries and the like) make up the remainder.

The board is scheduled to meet next on June 9 to approve the first licenses for marijuana cultivation and testing businesses.

James Brooks is a reporter for the Juneau Empire.