In late March, Sitka’s Weed Dudes was a flurry of activity as a revolving cast of inspectors, contractors and HVAC specialists came through to get the store ready for an expansion that many have been waiting for since the legalization of recreational marijuana: onsite consumption.
“Holy cow, there are a lot of hoops to jump through,” owner Michelle Cleaver said of the work done before the application process even officially opened.
With the mid-March signature of Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, Alaska became the first state with regulations allowing licensed retailers to sell marijuana for onsite use. The first day the state was set to take applications was April 12.
Mid-July is the soonest possible day businesses could realistically be able to open their onsite consumption spaces, explained Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office Director Erika McConnell. She said the agency planned to have the application process ready for the public on April 12, which happens to be the day before the deadline for the Alaska Marijuana Control Board’s May meeting.
“We don’t anticipate any onsite applications to get to the board until the July 10-12 meeting,” she said. “If an applicant had everything in order at the July meeting, it is possible they could open shortly after that.”
Cleaver said she’s been working on the issue locally since 2017 in order to ensure zoning and other issues were taken care of ahead of time but said it looked like onsite consumption regulations were just around the corner at the time.
“Who knew it was going to go to a two-year freefall?” she said. “Now I’m trying to fire up the city, but a lot of stuff has changed in two years.”
So what has changed?
One of those things is a new statewide smoking ban that required the regulations to be even more stringent than previously envisioned. The new onsite consumption licenses require the lounges to be separate spaces with their own separate air filtration systems alongside numerous other requirements.
Those additional requirements could make it tricky for some businesses to open an onsite consumption lounge in any form, but many in the industry see such potential that they’re trying to work it out anyway. In Midtown Anchorage, that’s an issue that Dankorage is wrestling with.
“Consumption on site has been something that interested us since legalization,” said Dankorage Assistant Manager Alexander Kamps. “It would be great to see our community have a place where people can safely and responsibly consume cannabis and it’s a big attraction for tourists. It is written in the regulations that you do need a separate room or an area that’s properly ventilated. I’m not sure what that means for us, but we have some plans to run by the engineers to see what the most feasible option is, and we’ll have to go from there.”
Dankorage is one of the smallest retail spaces in Anchorage, but Kamps said he’s optimistic that it’ll work out. Ideally, he said he’d like to see a rooftop lounge.
“I’m not sure how that will work out — we’re still checking it out with the engineers and the regulations — but I would like to see things moving up,” he said.
Anchorage, like many communities, has been wrestling with people using marijuana on the streets and in parks. The Anchorage Assembly even passed a resolution in 2017 asking for onsite consumption regulations. Kamps said he would like to see the industry play nice.
“It’s important to remember that we as Alaskans voted to make this legal. There’s a vast majority of us who are OK with cannabis use, but the main point is that whatever you’re smoking, be respectful of others and don’t do things that you shouldn’t be doing,” he said.
Meanwhile, back in Sitka...
It’s that sense of responsibility that was a big motivator for Cleaver.
“Sitka is a beautiful little island town with about 8,000 people, but between May and September we get 1 million cruise ship passengers. A lot of those people are from the Midwest and they don’t have access to marijuana, they want to check out the marijuana store,” she said. “They just want to get a joint and smoke it on the way back to the cruise ship. ...
“Do you know what’s between me and the cruise ship docks? A really beautiful federal park called Totem Park, and people love to go in there and smoke doobs. That’s not right, and it’s one of the worst things I do; I know it’s going on. There’s not a lot I can do about it, except for fighting really hard for consumption lounges. I would like to offer someone a safe space to smoke their weed, and if they need a ride into town then give them one.”
She said the lounges would serve as a safe and responsible place for people to consume marijuana, and even envisions a world where customers could get a safe ride back to the cruise ship docks. But also for Cleaver, the lounges could serve as a bit of a community space for like-minded cannabis users.
“That’s why I’m all for consumption lounges. We want to offer a place for people who don’t have a living room to smoke in for the day — that’s what cruise ship passengers are,” she said. “And it would be fun to get off from work for the day and smoke a doobie of the latest strain, talk world politics, have some nice juice and play a game of cribbage.”
Matt Buxton is a freelance writer in Anchorage. Comments about this story? Email editor@AlaskaCannabist.com.