Council creates Cannabis Advisory Commission

As the Alaska Legislature debates how to regulate commercial cultivation, processing and sale of marijuana, the Homer City Council on Monday night did what the Legislature has yet to do: It created a Cannabis Advisory Commission. 

In an unanimous vote, the council passed Ordinance 15-07(a) (s)(a), forming one of the first such commissions in the state.

“One reason to form the board and be active fairly quickly is the legislative process in Juneau appears to be bogging down,” said Shane Monroe, who has volunteered to be on the Cannabis Advisory Commission. “If the legislators don’t get it together, there’s a lot more for the cities to do.”

However, the council split on an amendment to make the police chief a nonvoting member. Council member Beau Burgess introduced an amendment making the chief advisory only, but the council tied with Burgess and council members David Lewis and Gus VanDyke voting yes and council members Francie Roberts, Catriona Reynolds and Bryan Zak voting no. Mayor Beth Wythe broke the tie and voted no, keeping the police chief on the commission as a voting member, as amended when the ordinance was introduced.

The Cannabis Advisory Commission creates a commission of five citizen members, two council members, the police chief and a member of the Homer Advisory Planning Commission. At least three of the citizen members will be city residents. 

The commission’s role is to advise the council on regulating cannabis and operating cannabis facilities in Homer. It also will draft recommended laws and policies regarding cannabis in the city. If a city creates a cannabis regulatory authority, the city also can receive half the application fees from cannabis facilities. The state also has to forward applications to the local government.

The only stumbling block in creating a Cannabis Advisory Commission came when Burgess questioned having city staff members vote on the commission. After the ordinance was introduced at the March 23 meeting, Burgess received a letter from a citizen, Katherine George, citing city personnel regulations that said a city employee should not be on a policy-making board without the approval of the city manager.

“It’s like two branches of government, the legislative and executive, combining,” Burgess said of having a city employee on the cannabis commission. 

He also said the police chief would be put in a difficult position. As a law enforcement professional, it’s his job to advocate for public safety, but the commission might ask him to make decisions outside that scope, Burgess said.

However, council members Francie Roberts and Catriona Reynolds said they would be OK with having the police chief sit as a voting member on the Cannabis Advisory Commission. When the vote came down, that position stood.