After hours of public testimony during Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, the assembly voted down an ordinance that, if passed, would have placed before voters in October the operation of marijuana cultivation facilities in areas of the borough outside cities.
Ordinance 2015-02, sponsored by Kelly Wolf of Kenai, failed on a six no, three yes vote. The no votes were cast by Wayne Ogle of Kenai, Dale Bagley of Soldotna, Sue McClure of Seward, Brent Johnson of Clam Gulch, Mako Haggerty of the southern Kenai Peninsula and Kelly Cooper of Homer. The yes votes were cast by Wolf, Blaine Gilman of Kenai and Stan Welles of Sterling.
As Assembly President Bagley announced results of the vote, the audience at the Soldotna meeting erupted in applause.
Prior to the vote, McClure offered an amendment that brought wording of the ordinance into alignment with the wording of Alaska Statute 17.38.020, the state’s marijuana laws. McClure asked for unanimous consent of the amendment, but failed to get it when Haggerty and Cooper voted no. With the remaining seven assembly members voting yes, the amendment passed.
More than 20 residents of the southern Kenai Peninsula crowded into the KPB satellite office in Homer to testify telephonically during Tuesday’s meeting. Dennis Wade, a 40-year Homer-area resident, was the first to the microphone. Wade, who uses medical marijuana to manage back pain, spoke in opposition to the ordinance.
“I would ask you not to pass this resolution. If cultivation is outlawed here, it will stay in the status quo. That’s in the black market and with outlaw growers,” said Wade, who is interested in developing a commercial grow operation.
Shane Monroe of the Kachemak Cannabis Consultancy summed up his objections to the ordinance by challenging its enforceability, questioning its ability to withstand inevitable challenges and pointing to what he called its “unreasonability.”
Beth Carroll of Fritz Creek followed Monroe to the microphone to express her opposition to Ordinance 2015-02. Carroll and many of those testifying urged the assembly to wait and see what action the Legislature would take in fine-tuning the state’s new marijuana laws.
Joshua Nordstrom pointed out that only 20 percent of Kenai Peninsula residents live in urban areas and that the ordinance would “bring agriculture into city limits when it’s traditionally meant for rural areas.”
Following the testimony of Homer residents, all of it opposing the ordinance, the assembly heard public comments at the assembly chambers in Soldotna. It was a mixture of support and opposition for Wolf’s ordinance. The views expressed came from residents of Nikiski, Kenai, Soldotna, Sterling, Kasilof, Ninilchik and additional Homer residents attending the Soldotna meeting.
Jennifer Waller of Sterling warned that the use of marijuana led to using other substances.
“It was definitely a gateway for me, my family members,” said Waller, who supported the ordinance.
Kenai trial lawyer Joe Skrha summed up his argument against the ordinance with three points: the intent of commercial grow operations to clean up the black market; in his years of practice, he had represented thousands of cases involving driving under the influence of alcohol, but couldn’t remember any client being arrested for DUI marijuana; and “the classic example” of Gunnison, Colo., a city that chose to be “dry” with regard to marijuana, but a year later realized it had lost more than $15 million in tax money.
“Don’t be scared of this stuff,” Skrha told the assembly.
After hearing all the public testimony — 70 testifying in opposition to the ordinance and 22 in favor of it, according to Haggerty’s count — Wolf explained what motivated him to sponsor the ordinance. In addition to concerns about what would happen to a residence’s “curb appeal” if a marijuana farm were started across the street or next door or even down the road, he also considered the breakdown in the November general election of the vote that passed Ballot Measure 2, an act to tax and regulate the production, sale and use of marijuana.
“I started looking at precincts, the breakdown, and realized the majority of the Kenai Peninsula didn’t pass this (ballot measure),” said Wolf.
According to election results provided by the state Division of Election, Ballot Measure failed in House District 30, which includes Kenai and Soldotna, with 4,169 no votes and 3,558 yes voted, the yes votes outnumbering the no’s in only two precincts. In House District 31, the southern Kenai Peninsula, the ballot measure passed with 4,635 yes votes and 3,900 no votes, and only two precincts where the no’s outnumbered the yes votes.
“Looking at Ballot Measure 2, it was real clear it gave the individual municipalities the right and choice and voice to choose what they wanted to have happen,” said Wolf.
Cooper said with the Legislature months away from efforts to implement the state’s new marijuana laws, Wolf’s ordinance was premature. Cooper also said she intended to bring forward a resolution for the assembly’s approval that would develop a board to monitor legislation at the state level and report back to the assembly. Being better educated would then help the assembly decide if additional action should be put before borough voters.
Haggerty used his family’s experience to point out the toll marijuana laws can take on individuals and families. When Haggerty was in the eighth grade, his father was arrested for being in possession of marijuana.
“They (law enforcement) came into the house, raided the house, basically, and then the threat was they were going to take us away from our mom and dad. I loved my mom and dad and my sisters and the system was going to take us away from our mom and dad and it was scary. I was terrified,” said Haggerty. “So, for us to sit here and talk about going backwards to those days, that’s about the most irresponsible thing I can think of.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.