Commercial cannabis ban initiative petitions go out

Following the filing earlier this month of an application for an initiative petition that would ban commercial cannabis, Homer City Clerk Jo Johnson last Thursday granted permission for the initiative backers to begin collecting signatures.

Titled “An Initiative Petition for an Ordinance Prohibiting Marijuana Establishments in the City of Homer,” the group seeks to put to the voters the question of if cultivation, manufacturing, testing and sale of marijuana, also known as cannabis, would be banned in the city. Under Ballot Measure 2, the citizen initiative that legalizes personal, medicinal and commercial use of cannabis, local governments can through local option impose a ban on some or all commercial activities.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough allows commercial cannabis in areas only under borough authority and not in local governments. At least two cultivation facilities in the Homer area have applied for cultivation permits as of last week. The Kachemak City Council in a 5-2 vote turned down a proposal to put to Kachemak City residents a local option vote (see story, page 1).

The process for holding a local option vote is set in Alaska Statute 17, the state law enacting Ballot Measure 2, as well as state regulations.

To get on the ballot, Johnson said the initiative backers have 90 days, or until June 15, to collect 309 signatures, 25 percent of the number of people who voted in the October 2015 city election. Only people registered to vote in the city of Homer can sign the petition, and the clerk will check the petition against voter registration lists. Only petition handlers can collect signatures, and the person signing a petition must do so in the presence of the handler.

If the initiative backers get enough signatures, the question would go on the Oct. 4 regular election ballot.

At its March 14 meeting, the council approved an ordinance regulating by zoning district commercial cannabis operations.  

Under a 2008 Alaska Supreme Court case, Frank Griswold v. City of Homer, the court ruled that zoning could not be changed by initiative. The commercial cannabis ban initiative does not overturn the city’s zoning ordinance.

When asked by email if the city attorney had reviewed the proposed initiative to see if it could be considered a zoning change, Johnson replied that the city attorney had reviewed the application. She cited a section of Alaska Statute 29 requiring the clerk to certify an application if it “would be enforceable as a matter of law.” 

Johnson also cited Alaska Statute 17, which authorizes a city to prohibit commercial cannabis activities by voter initiative.

The sponsors of the initiative are tourist industry businessman Chad Mathews and Tara Smith. Chad Mathews did not return a phone message seeking comment and Tara Smith had said earlier she did not wish to comment.

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

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