KENAI — Every time brothers Chase and Dylan Griffith make a business decision, instead of shaking hands, they bump fists.
It’s par for the course in their family-owned business, Permafrost Distributors, a cannabis cultivation and retail operation based in Nikiski and Sterling. Another of their brothers helps with cultivation, and a high school friend of Chase Griffith’s works in the store in Sterling.
But just because the group is friendly doesn’t mean they don’t take their business seriously. The Griffith brothers funded their original limited cannabis cultivation operation in Nikiski with no outside financial help and expanded to Sterling in June. All the cannabis products in the retail shop in Sterling are made from their own harvests, and though they don’t manufacture the shatter, or concentrate, themselves, it’s made from their plants’ trim.
“We like to send our own in and get our own out,” said Dylan Griffith.
The move to Sterling in June was a somewhat risky investment at the time. Less than four months later, Kenai Peninsula Borough voters would decide whether commercial cannabis operations in the borough outside the cities should be legal. Voters in the borough outside the cities soundly defeated the proposition by a 28.5 percent margin, leaving commercial cannabis operations legal.
Chase Griffith served on the steering committee for the Keep Cannabis Legal campaign, the industry-organized political group opposing the proposition. He said they were fairly certain it wouldn’t pass but had a backup plan if it did.
Luckily for them, they’ve been able to press on. They’ve been hard at work on testing their own strains in their limited grow operations and eventually plan to look at their own manufacturing license. They’re getting themselves established in the neighborhood, too — none of the neighbors in Sterling seem to mind them being there, Chase Griffith said. With the protections within regulation requiring cannabis business licensees to be Alaskans, it helps keep some of the money from the industry in the state, too, he said.
“We got no objections to any of our licenses,” he said. “On this street, everyone’s been really supportive.”
Many cannabis business owners are now going forward full steam toward opening on the Kenai Peninsula. Across the Kenai Peninsula, 26 cannabis businesses are currently operating, with some businesses holding multiple licenses, like Permafrost Distributors. Another 21 licenses are pending at various points in the application process.
One of those is Nicole Chistensen’s license. She started the application process for her business, a cannabis product manufacturing facility near Soldotna called Fire Eater, about a year ago and has been working her way through the process since. Though she and her family currently live in Anchorage, they chose to base their business on the peninsula because the area’s zoning restrictions were less complicated than Anchorage’s rules, she said in an email.
“(The Municipality of Anchorage’s rules) in regards to location caused a lot of struggles finding an appropriate spot,” she said. “We had one that was all lined up. We initiated our license and then the location fell through. The landlord had an issue arise (nothing that could have been anticipated); it was just a huge heartbreak and set back to have to start over. While on the peninsula we started talking to some of the local businesses there and decided that since we were planning to relocate anyway let’s just move that timeline up. We just happened to stumble into a location that works well for us.”
She said she was happy to see the voters in the borough chose to keep commercial cannabis legal, though with the recent investigation and repeal of Fairbanks edible manufacturer Frozen Budz’ license due to untested cannabis, she said she anticipated stricter regulations for edibles.
Her business and another Soldotna-area licensee, Lady Grey Gourmet Medibles, will be the first cannabis manufacturing facilities on the peninsula. That’s something the Griffiths said would help the industry — closer facilities for manufacturing as well as future testing facility.