Governor considers delay in pot sales

FAIRBANKS (AP) — Alaska Gov. Bill Walker will consider a 90-day delay in implementing a regulatory system for legal marijuana sales.

Walker spokeswoman Grace Jang said a delay in implementing sales would not affect the date when recreational use of marijuana becomes legal under state law, but an extension on parts of a citizen initiative approved last month is “to make sure the regulatory infrastructure is properly in place,” the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

In recent comments to the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, Walker responded to a question about how the administration would approach writing challenging regulations. He said he was told he could delay the process.

“I asked if we could do it for four years,” Walker said, joking. “I can put it off 90 days, but not four years. We’ll probably go the 90-day route. So that’s, you know, where we are.”

His administration is contacting Colorado and Washington about their regulatory systems, and “will follow the will of the voters on all the issues around the ballot,” he said.

A state group that pushed for passage of the marijuana measure said a delay would be a change to the spirit of the bill and would be challenged.

“I would dispute that,” said Bruce Schulte, spokesman for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation. “If you read the ballot measure, it’s very specific in terms of the timeline. … Some things were more loose, but the schedule was pretty well-defined. It’s our position that the ballot initiative was pretty clear.”

The ballot measure specified that adults no longer would be arrested under state law for possessing up to an ounce of pot outside their homes 90 days after election results were certified, which works out to be Feb. 24.

The state has nine months after the law’s effective date to create regulations for commercial sales, growers and testing. The state has three additional months to begin accepting applications and three more months to begin issuing permits. Under that timeline, commercial growers could begin to produce marijuana for sale in May 2016.

Cynthia Franklin, director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, said the measure contained hard deadlines. Regulations will be under the board unless the Legislature creates a separate regulatory board.

“Unless and until a separate marijuana bill is created, we’re working on it and we’re going to do something,” Franklin said. “If some external force slows us down like the Legislature, then we’ll take that as it comes. All we have right now comes from the ballot measure.”

Delays likely would require a change in law by the Legislature, she said, which runs the risk of violating the initiative intent. Voter initiatives cannot be dramatically changed for two years, but the Legislature can make minor changes.