Citizens’ vote on cannabis proposed

Mayor Beth Wythe

Mayor Beth Wythe

Several controversial cannabis ordinances on the agenda of Monday’s Homer City Council meeting have led officials to set up overflow seating at City Hall for the Feb. 22 meeting. Participants can listen in a back-up meeting hall in the Planning Department, but to testify must speak in the Cowles council chambers.

New on the agenda is an ordinance to be introduced by Homer Mayor Beth Wythe proposing a city vote on whether to ban commercial cannabis in Homer. Wythe also has proposed an amendment to an ordinance up for second reading at the Feb. 22 meeting that would regulate cannabis activities by zoning district. If the zoning ordinance, 16-04(A)(S-2), passes, and the council accepts Wythe’s amendment, it would take effect only if voters reject a ban at the Oct. 4 election.

In essence, Wythe proposes a moratorium on issuing licenses for the cultivation, manufacturing, testing and sale of cannabis in city limits. Alaska regulations defining licensing and taxation of commercial marijuana activities go into effect on Feb. 21. Businesses can apply for licenses starting then depending on local laws. If the zoning ordinance doesn’t take effect in Homer until October, potential cannabis businesses would have to wait out at least an entire growing season.

Another ordinance to ban commercial cannabis in Homer, Ordinance 16-06, introduced by council member Heath Smith, also is up for second reading at Monday’s council meeting. Smith’s ordinance proposes a ban on commercial cannabis in Homer as well, but puts the question to the council. Even if commercial cannabis is banned in Homer, personal and medicinal use of cannabis would remain legal for adults age 21 and older.

By 52 percent statewide, Alaska voters in 2014 passed Ballot Measure 2, an act legalizing cannabis for personal possession and use and commercial cultivation, manufacturing, testing and sale. In Homer, 53 percent of voters approved Ballot Measure 2. On the lower Kenai Peninsula in House District 31, including Homer, the overall vote passed by 54 percent yes.

At the request of Cynthia Franklin, the director of the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board, the Alaska Department of Law last Friday provided an opinion to clear up confusion regarding how a ban on commercial cannabis in Homer would affect Kenai Peninsula Borough areas outside city limits. Such a ban would not affect surrounding areas, Franklin wrote in an email.

“If the area outside the city’s boundaries is within another local government, the 10-mile rule would not apply,” Franklin wrote.

Under state cannabis regulations, a local-option ban of commercial cannabis in an incorporated city also would affect an area 10-miles out from city limits if that area is unincorporated. However, the area outside of Homer is part of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, a second-class incorporated borough, or other cities like Seldovia and Kachemak City. 

City Clerk Jo Johnson said that because of anticipated large numbers of people attending the Feb. 22 meeting, an overflow area will be set up in the Planning Department. There will be live audio there, but people testifying will have to speak in person before the council in the Cowles Council Chambers. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. and also is broadcast live on KBBI Public Radio, AM 890.

Public comments on the proposed city vote on a pot ban can be made in the “comments on matters already on the agenda” portion at the start of the meeting. Public hearings will be held on Ordinances 16-04(A)(S-2) and 16-06.

Wythe’s proposed ordinance was still being reviewed by city attorneys as of press time, but will be available on the city’s website when the Feb. 22 council agenda is published today. For updates, visit www.cityofhomer-ak.gov.

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

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