The grand opening of Homer’s first retail marijuana store — Uncle Herb’s — left no stoners unturned last Thursday as they filed through the door from far and wide, out of the darkness and into the open of a regulated market.
A small line formed in front of the business on Ocean Drive before the doors officially opened. Leading the pack was former Homer City Council and Cannabis Advisory Commission member David Lewis. A smile broke across his face as he made the first legal purchase of cannabis from a retail store within city limits.
“I think it’s great,” Lewis said. “You know, it’s just another business, and I hope it makes it is a blooming business.”
Uncle Herb’s has been a long time coming. Through a successful citizen ballot initiative, Alaska legalized commerical cannabis in 2015 and the first retail marijuana store on the Kenai Peninsula opened in Kenai in 2016. Owner Lloyd Stiassny already owns an Uncle Herb’s in Anchorage, a city quick to run with the opportunity. He got permission from the city to open a Homer location in September 2017.
“It feels great,” Stiassny said. “It’s an incredible industry. I hope that people really do appreciate the fact that this is the future in many ways and that it will provide employment, good jobs, opportunity, tax revenue and a lot of help to a lot of people.”
Stiassny has seven to eight employees at the Homer location. His son, Aaron, will manage the Homer store while he focuses on the Anchorage location.
The Homer store offers pre-rolls, edibles, flowers, concentrates and paraphernalia. Clean, well-lit and with products displayed in glass cases, it has the feel of a boutique.
“We’re trying to source similar to what we’re offering in Anchorage,” Stiassny said.
This includes product from businesses on the Kenai Peninsula, which has been brought to the Anchorage location and been well received, he said. Stiassny said he’s created relationships with a few cannabis enterprises in the Homer area, and that he hopes to source from them for the Homer store.
“And actually we’ve reached out to a number of them,” he said. “We’re solidifying those relationships here in Homer.”
Stiassny said the Uncle Herb’s menu is quite diverse at the Anchorage store, and that he plans to grow the Homer menu to reach the same level.
“Obviously we’re starting a little bit slower (in Homer) in the logistics of transporting.”
Stiassny also hopes to develop and source CBD product options, since Gov. Bill Walker signed into law Senate Bill 6 last month, which separates hemp from marijuana and defines it as an agricultural crop.
Stiassny spoke to the full circle that gets created in the marijuana industry.
“It’s like no other in Alaska,” he said. “You’ve got to grow it, right? So there’s an agricultural component. You’ve got a manufactoring component … creating product, diverse product. And then you know the retail and wholesale of that. It’s the full supply train.”
For the first hour or so after Uncle Herb’s opened its doors, couples, groups and stragglers filed in at a steady pace, keeping the staff busy answering questions and checking IDs. Two of the most excited patrons were Beth Carroll and John Sheipe. Carroll works at Panama Reds, an indoor gardening supply store that also caters to cultivation needs.
Carroll said she was so excited about the opening of Uncle Herb’s, she decided to let all her customers know exactly where she went on her break.
“Literally there’s a sign on the door at Pamana Reds that says, ‘back in 20 minutes, gone to the weed store,’” she said.
Sheipe said the increased availability for area residents is important.
“It’s been a game changer for a lot of folks once they actually open up to the possibility of what this plant can do,” he said.
“I think it’s accessibility, it’s respectability, it’s no longer having to feel like you’re a criminal or you’ve done something wrong,” Carroll added. “It’s transparent and open for people who want it as medicine or as a recreational substance.”
Under a new bill passed recently in the Alaska Legislature, Senate Bill 128, Marijuana Treatment Fund; Programs, a new fund has been created as an account within the general fund, said Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Alaska, in his last newsletter of the session. The bill reallocates how cannabis excise taxes will be shared.
“The bill directs 25 percent of the marijuana excise tax proceeds levied under AS 43.61.010 to the fund,” Seaton wrote. “The remaining proceeds will be distributed 50 percent to the recidivism reduction fund (AS 43.61.010(c)) and 25 percent to the general fund.”
Seaton said about $2.5 million wil go to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, and some will pass through the department as grants to nonprofit agencies for educational after-school programs.
Uncle Herb’s is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.