Planting the seed

Two Kenai marijuana clubhouse owners are forging ahead with a business plan that allows residents to share and use cannabis in the absence of state or local regulations.

Co-owners Corey Rorem and Joshua Bird opened Green Rush Events Clubhouse in Kenai on June 20. They said they wanted to make their mark as a positive example of a cannabis establishment in the community before other people got the same idea.

“We’re still kind of trial running things,” Rorem said. “We felt the need to do it before someone else did it, because the entire point of this establishment is to bridge the gap between cannabis users and the rest of the community.”

The clubhouse operates on a members-only policy, charging for a daily, monthly, silver or gold membership. Using marijuana is still illegal in a public place in Alaska. Charging a membership fee and only allowing members inside the building is how Rorem and Bird claim to provide a private space.

Members can bring, use and share their own marijuana from 2-8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. They cannot buy or sell cannabis products.

Since Green Rush Events does not cultivate, distribute, manufacture, purchase, sell or test marijuana products, it does not qualify as a “marijuana establishment” under AS 17.38, the state law that sets preliminary regulations for the sale and use of marijuana.

This anomaly was made clear when Rorem and Bird received a cease and desist letter from Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Director Cynthia Franklin. The board was given rule-making authority until the Marijuana Control Board was seated and in full swing.

The letter emphasizes that although AS 17.38 allows for legal marijuana businesses, the timeline for the Marijuana Control Board to finalize regulations is ongoing, and licenses for such establishments will not begin being issued until May 2016.

Franklin states in the letter that since Green Rush Events’ business model is not accounted for under AS 17.38, the establishment will not be legal until legislation is created to accommodate it.

During its July 2 meeting, the Marijuana Control Board took the position that it wanted the authority to issue licenses to social cannabis clubs.

Rorem said the sections of the letter referencing unlawful activity do not apply to Green Rush Events. He and Bird applied for a State of Alaska business license, which was issued to them on June 2.

The Kenai City Council is also taking note of the new business. Mayor Pat Porter announced at a July 1 meeting that she plans to introduce a moratorium on marijuana-related businesses at the next meeting. She said that until both the state and city finalize marijuana regulations, it is premature for businesses to move in and start up without knowing the rules.

For example, she said the city council could determine at the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Commission that marijuana-related businesses can only be located in certain parts of town. If Green Rush Events ends up being in a prohibited area, its owners would have to move.

“I personally am not against the business,” Porter said. “If they are going to have them, I would prefer that they would have standalone clubhouses. Our city is just now beginning to address our planning and zoning. We have the right to establish all of those regulations within our community.”

Porter also expressed concerns that the city hasn’t had much time to hear from residents about what they would like to see with regard to marijuana businesses in town. Even when the state comes out with its final regulations, she said, every local municipality has the chance to make them their own.

Rorem and Bird said they intend to follow whatever regulations are set by the city.

“If the people decide that they don’t want these kinds of businesses here, then cool, we’ll put it where it needs to be,” Rorem said. “It’s just that they’re asking us to follow rules that haven’t been invented. If you told Henry Ford, ‘You’ve got to wait for us to make the DMV before you build the car,’ we’d all still be driving 20 (miles per hour) because we wouldn’t even know what 55 was like.”

The next city council meeting will be held at 7 p.m., July 15, at the City Hall Council Chambers on Fidalgo Avenue.

“We need to deal with it at the city council level, and then vote the way we want the footprint of this new business to be in our community,” Porter said.

In the meantime, residents from across the peninsula showed up on July 4 for the club’s Smoke n’ Stripes Fundraiser, where Rorem and Bird took $5 off the entrance fee for anyone who donated three cans of food. The donations were given to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.

Rorem said he hopes the open, social nature of the clubhouse can both bring people together and educate those who are in charge of forming regulations.

“We’ve been in the shadows so long that, you know, there’s a real taboo against us,” Rorem said. “It’s really not a scary situation. It’s calmer than a bar.”

Rorem said he and Bird have gone so far as to invite members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough and Kenai City Council to visit the clubhouse and talk with them about the business.

Porter said she and City Manager Rick Koch paid a visit to Green Rush Events and talked with the owners outside the building. Porter said the conversation was “very pleasant.”

“I basically told them how I felt about it,” she said.

Rorem said Porter seemed to express concern over his and Bird’s business model. He said that since Porter also received the cease and desist letter sent to them, her reaction was understandable.

“If that was the first time you heard about something happening in your city … you might show up with some concern,” Rorem said.

The clubhouse is not the first of its kind to crop up in Alaska since the state legalized marijuana use in February. In attendance at Saturday’s fundraiser was Theresa Collins, owner of Pot Luck Events in Anchorage, who said she was there to show her support for another social marijuana club.

Rorem said he is anxious for marijuana regulations to be set, as they will affect the future of his clubhouse.

“I’ve thrown a lot into this,” Rorem said. “Of course I’m worried that someone could one day take it away. I knew the risk.”

Megan Pacer is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.