Marijuana

Municipalities in Alaska are taking it slow when it comes to onsite consumption. istock

The state of Alaska finally opened applications for its newly created onsite marijuana consumption endorsement on April 11, but after years of waiting for the change, it looks like you’ll have to wait a little longer before lighting up at your local cannabis café.

The state hadn’t yet received any applications for onsite consumption endorsements as of May 9, said Alaska Marijuana and Control Office Director Erika McConnell via email.

While the state’s application process poses its own costly and time-intensive hurdle, many of the state’s largest communities have outright bans on onsite consumption on the books and aren’t racing to undo them.

McConnell explained that state onsite marijuana regulations, like other applications, allow plenty of input from local governments.

“Local governments may protest an onsite consumption endorsement in the same way that they can protest a license application,” she said. “An endorsement must meet local government requirements as well as state requirements.”

Local communities can also outright ban onsite consumption as they can do with other marijuana stores, and that’s just what some Alaska municipalities had done ahead of the approval of regulations.

But things are changing.

In Anchorage, the assembly has opted to take a slow approach when it comes to opening the doors to onsite consumption, explained Assemblyman Christopher Constant. Constant serves on the city’s Community Economic Development Committee and has been one of the leading advocates on the Anchorage Assembly for marijuana and onsite consumption.

The Anchorage Assembly was to be taking up consumption at its late May meeting but in a limited scope.

Constant said working out a solution that will fit with the city’s laws against indoor smoking, the state’s smoke-free workplaces law and the onsite consumption regulations will take time. Without smoke, he said he expects a lower regulatory hurdle for edible-focused shops to open their doors.

He also said part of the city’s hesitancy to rushing ahead with regulations is borne by issues the municipality has had with alcohol and bars.

“We’re not going to casually regulate these operations,” he said. “Anchorage has a long history of bad bar owners, and this is closer to a bar operation than a package store. Basically, we have to take it methodically and thoroughly one step at a time.”

While Constant is a supporter of onsite consumption both edible and inhalation, he acknowledged there will be quite a bit of public pushback to it in any form. He said inhalation will be coming down the line for Anchorage and he plans to lead that effort.

“The message I’m trying to communicate is that it will be slow, thorough and methodical instead of a rush to the finish line,” he said.

Juneau has punted on onsite consumption of marijuana for the time being, said Juneau Community Development Director Jill Maclean. The assembly of the city and borough of Juneau began exploring the issue following the approval of the regulations but ultimately decided to sideline the issue while it works on its budget.

“The CBJ began initial discussions of onsite consumption of marijuana and will revisit the topic once the city budget is complete,” she said.

The city’s indoor smoking ban already covers marijuana.

The city of Fairbanks was the first major city to repeal its ban in a vote in late April after rejecting an effort that would have delayed the decision to October so it could be put to a public vote. But because the process must start with the state, the city of Fairbanks had yet to see any applications as of early May, said Communications Director Teal Soden.

“As far as interest goes, there were several business owners that testified in support of onsite consumption when that ordinance came up; however, the city has not received any applications from the state for approval,” she said via email. “That being said, with all of the state regulations related to onsite (especially the building requirements), I don’t believe it will be a particularly quick process for any business to offer onsite consumption.

“It’s something that will take some time,” she said, “but my guess would be there are business owners that are beginning the process.”

Matt Buxton is a freelance writer in Anchorage. Comments about this story? Email editor@AlaskaCannabist.com.

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