Council shoots down measure to expand retail marijuana to the Spit

After months of back and forth and several lengthy discussions, the Homer City Council has decided that the Homer Spit is not ready for retail marijuana.

The council shot down an ordinance at its Monday meeting that would have included the Spit — which is the city’s Marine Commercial District — with the other districts where retail marijuana establishments are allowed on private property. Council members split the vote with Donna Aderhold, Rachel Lord and Caroline Venuti voting yes, and Heath Smith, Shelly Erickson and Tom Stroozas voting against. Mayor Bryan Zak broke the tie with his no vote.

When Homer was originally drafting regulations for how it would handle marijuana within city limits, it selected only the central business district, general commercial districts one and two, and the East End mixed use district as places where commercial marijuana would be allowed, specifically exempting the Spit.

Back in October 2017, the Planning Advisory Commission forwarded a recommendation to the council to open the Spit to retail marijuana. It held two public hearings on the matter and voted in support of the recommendation, according to a memo from City Planner Rick Abboud. The Port and Harbor Commission has also voiced its support of the move.

Several community members voiced their opposition to allowing retail marijuana on the Spit during public comments at the Monday council meeting. Some were concerned that the presence of cannabis there would detract from the Spit’s “family atmosphere,” while another resident commented that there are already enough problems on the Spit during the summer that come with the influx of tourists, and that adding marijuana to the mix would only make things worse.

Smith, who was the most vocal in opposing the ordinance, said he worried that not enough private property owners on the Spit were involved in the discussion of expanding marijuana retail establishments to that district.

“Yes, it’s very clear that I’m on the record as being opposed to marijuana. To me, this is not about an anti-marijuana stance as it us controlling where it’s restricted and how it’s used. And that falls directly into our laps.”

For her part, Erickson said she opposed the measure because she worries that allowing marijuana onto the Spit through retail stores could potentially jeopardize federal funding for things like the Homer Harbor. She cited the tension and uncertainty regarding marijuana within President Donald Trump’s administration.

One point Smith has brought up multiple times is that he doesn’t want the city to be “complicit” in allowing a retail establishment to sell its products in a place where he says there are no private places to consume them. Using marijuana is still prohibited in public.

“Where are these people going to consume?” he said. “It’s clearly focused at the tourist industry, they’re trying to get to the tourists. And people are not going to come down here and buy that and not use it. So what kind of atmosphere do we want to create out on the Spit?”

Lord countered that, in reality, the city government has very little control over what individuals chose to do with what they purchase. It’s the same with alcohol and other drugs, she said — the city can push education and resources, but at the end of the day cannot control how people use those substances.

“In so far as ensuring the safety of the community, … I feel as though that line of reasoning … is a false sense of control over this situation,” she said. “… The idea that we have some semblance of control over what is going to happen with legal pot — we don’t. We just don’t.”

Former council member David Lewis has argued in the past that the city is not complicit in the act of people driving drunk simply because it allows alcohol to be sold in bars and liquor stores. Consumers have a personal responsibility to know where they are allowed to consume and to not break the law, he said.

Stroozas called the issue a double edged sword. He said it would be better to wait until the city can see the effects of its first approved marijuana retail facility, Uncle Herb’s, now under construction on Ocean Drive but not yet open.

Venuti said that she’s pro business, and would therefore support the ordinance because she saw it as pro business. She said if someone was going to put in the work involved in getting a retail establishment approved through the state, that she saw no reason to say no.

“I don’t like vodka, but I walk on the beach and there’s vodka bottles in front of me,” she said. “So, you just don’t get what you want all the time, and I believe that this is something that will support businesses.”

The council also voted to disband the Cannabis Advisory Commission, which had brought forward that recommendation and several others as the city was preparing to accommodate and regulate marijuana. Aderhold explained that the commission was really formed as a way for the city to get out ahead of the industry and make sure it was prepared for it, and that the commission has done its job.

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