Seaton pushes marijuana regs

JUNEAU — Legal marijuana advocates took to their phones Tuesday to testify against a bill that aims to delay legalizing the commercial sale of marijuana concentrates.

The legislation by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, had its first hearing Tuesday in the House Health and Social Services Committee, of which he is the chair. 

House Bill 59 would delay state regulations covering the legal manufacture, delivery, possession and sale of marijuana concentrates to Nov. 24, 2016, a year after the deadline set in a voter initiative, “in response to the difficulties other jurisdictions have found in unintended consequences of regulations permitting marijuana concentrates.”

Using concentrates would still be legal — they simply could not be sold until the new deadline.

Incidents of children consuming marijuana-laced baked goods and suffering “marijuana overdoses” have been in the Colorado news since that state legalized the drug. Marijuana concentrates — the active ingredients of marijuana distilled into an oil or resin — are often used in cannabis-laced snacks.

Concentrates can be produced through a high-heat process and are considered more dangerous to create and use than other forms of marijuana.

Despite hearing testimony that the bill violates voter intent and could be unconstitutional, Seaton said he will continue with the legislation.

“I don’t think we’re changing the definition of marijuana,” he said after the hearing, shrugging. “We’re just saying when certain regulations will be in effect.”

He said he feels passionately about the legislation because of the troubles Colorado and other legal pot states have had with concentrates.

Marijuana Policy Project researcher Rachelle Yeung said at the hearing that the national organization — which helped Alaska’s legalization campaign — believes the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, tasked with developing regulations for the drug unless the Legislature creates a marijuana board, will be able to come up with regulations for concentrates by the universal Nov. 24, 2015, deadline.

The recreational use of marijuana, including concentrates, becomes legal Feb. 24.

She said delaying regulations of one form of marijuana goes against the intent of Ballot Measure 2, the citizen initiative passed by voters in November.

“Even delaying a portion would contradict the will of the voters,” Yeung said. “HB59 as drafted would be unconstitutional.”

Committee member Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, asked Yeung how long the Marijuana Policy Project will be involved in Alaska’s legalization process, and if the organization intended to press charges if legislation is passed that it doesn’t feel was in line with the initiative.

“I personally have never been involved in (a lawsuit) … but should this bill or any other bill pass through the Legislature, that may be an option that has to be considered, but we do not want to do that,” Yeung said.

ABC Board Director Cynthia Franklin also testified at the hearing. She said the board’s 10 employees are on track to finish all the regulations — including those for concentrates — by the Nov. 24 deadline, and pushing anything back by another year is unnecessary.

Seaton said after the hearing that he hasn’t seen a fiscal note from Franklin’s department on how much it will cost in overtime or extra staff to get all of those regulations finished, which is his concern. He doesn’t want to go against the will of the voters, he said; he wants to make sure the state isn’t spending extra time and money developing regulations for concentrates in a budget shortfall.

“At least we would have the regulations on growing, processing and plant material sales in places,” Seaton said. “Talking to folks (in Colorado and Washington), all of the difficulties have been marijuana concentrates. So, wanting to make sure that we get a good orderly process of getting the regulation established. The goal isn’t to delay something, the goal is to make sure we get a good, orderly process.”

Katie Moritz is a reporter for the Juneau Empire.