Cannabis panel waits for state to finish regs

Now that cannabis, also known as marijuana, has been made legal in Alaska for possession and ultimately cultivation, processing and retail sale, many advocates of a legal cannabis industry can’t wait for the market to bloom. Some want to see social clubs while others see a potential boom in real estate for cannabis-related businesses.

Not so fast, though. Members of the Homer Cannabis Advisory Commission and the Alaska Marijuana Control Board both have the same message: Wait.

“We have to operate with the state. That’s why we’re eagerly waiting for them to finish up,” said Aryn Young, chair of Homer’s Cannabis Advisory Commission. “That will dictate what we can and cannot do.”

On Wednesday and today, the state’s Marijuana Control Board meets in Anchorage to review the last batch of proposed draft regulations for cannabis. That is the latest of a series of meetings held since voters legalized cannabis in the November 2014 election and the initiative took effect in February. The board meets up to Nov. 20, when it will vote on final regulations.

“If you want to riff off what the state does and see what the state does, you have to wait until our timeline is up,” said Cynthia Franklin, chair of the Alcoholic Beverage and Marijuana Control Boards. “We’re not behind. We’re on time.”

Some cities have passed ordinances regulating cannabis. The Homer City Council created the Cannabis Advisory Commission so that Homer could stay ahead of the curve, but also so that the city could benefit from licensing fees. Under the Alaska statutes created by the initiative, if a city forms a commission, it can collect half of up to $5,000 in licensing fees.

In the meantime, the Cannabis Advisory Commission has been reviewing draft state regulations and through the council forwarding its recommendations. The Marijuana Control Board has been moving so fast that by the time the council vets the commission comments, some are no longer relevant, a lag council member Beauregard Burgess noted at the Sept. 14 council meeting.

In public testimony at the cannabis commission’s Aug. 27 meeting, speakers pushed for action. Brenda Hays, a Realtor, said she’s been getting inquiries from people wanting to buy Homer property related to cannabis businesses. With no concrete guidelines, real estate speculators might go elsewhere, she said.

“We have a huge opportunity knocking on Homer’s door,” she said. “Please leave the lights on for more tax revenue.”

Wes Schacht spoke in support of public cannabis social clubs, where people could consume cannabis in a public setting. However, the Marijuana Control Board has set emergency regulations prohibiting cannabis consumption in public, including vehicles.

“This community has been indulging in various forms of cannabis over the years,” Schacht said. “I do think we would benefit from cannabis ecotourism.”

Under the initiative, social clubs won’t be allowed as legal cannabis businesses, Franklin said. The Marijuana Control Board has interpreted the law to mean only those activities permitted by the initiative will be allowed — possession, cultivation and sale. She compared social clubs to bottle clubs, where people bring personally owned alcohol to a club setting and drink.

“The bottom line is this board is not permitted to conjure up a license type from scratch,” she said of cannabis social clubs.

Franklin did say she thinks social clubs would be a good idea, but that’s something that would have to be enacted by the Alaska Legislature. The Marijuana Control Board has put regulating social clubs on a list of items the Legislature should consider.

“We’ve gone on record to say it should be done. I don’t think it makes sense to have a substance that’s legal and not have a place to consume it,” Franklin said.

One recommendation the Homer Cannabis Advisory Commission has made is to keep local control of zoning related to cannabis activities, Young said.

“I think we’re a little better informed about our town,” she said.

One issue raised by City Planner Rick Abboud is how close cannabis businesses can be to schools and churches. In a memorandum to the cannabis commission, Abboud said the federal government has expectations from states with a regulated cannabis industry. A big federal concern is protection from minors, he wrote. Abboud prepared a map showing 500-foot buffers around schools and churches that would close off parts of Pioneer Avenue and East End Road to cannabis businesses.

For now, though, the Cannabis Advisory Commission can only wait while the state regulatory process moves along.

“I certainly understand the frustration people feel about the pace of things,” said Shane Monroe, vice chair of the commission, at its Aug. 27 meeting. “Believe it or not, things are happening quickly. They’re just not happening at this table.”

When the Marijuana Regulatory Board does release its final regulations in November, the Homer cannabis commission will get down to work.

“All municipalities have their hands tied until the state makes those regulations,” Burgess said. “As soon as that happens, we will be busy.”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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