As Alaska’s cannabis industry takes another step forward with the approval of onsite consumption regulations earlier this year, the state’s largest municipality is taking a smoke-free approach.
The Anchorage Assembly approved regulations at its mid-June meeting that will allow customers to eat marijuana-infused edibles within specially designated areas of the shop. For now, smoking marijuana still will be prohibited.
It’s an intentionally limited approach to onsite consumption, Assemblyman Christopher Constant explained to the Alaska Cannabist before the vote took place. He recognized that there’s still a lot of pushback to smoking and said it’s easier to move ahead with a smoke-free path for onsite consumption.
“There’s been conversations about how businesses could be up and licensed by the end of this summer,” he said. “There’s no chance that’s going to happen for inhalation because of the regulatory scheme and the requirements for all the public process.”
The new regulations for the city would require endorsements from both the municipality and the state before a business could open its doors. The state requirement for onsite consumption, such as a free-standing building and separate ventilation, also add additional costs and hurdles before businesses can start to take advantage of the new rules.
It’s because of that that many city officials and industry advocates see the path ahead as a limited and slow one.
“Very, very few locations may take advantage of this new change in the law,” said Assemblyman John Weddleton, a supporter of the ordinance, at the meeting. “I just can’t imagine it being an earth-shattering, big change in the marijuana industry.”
While the smoke-free regulations may fall short of the full potential of the state’s onsite rules, it’s an opportunity for some to try something innovative.
Jake Warden, chief executive retail officer of Cannabaska in Anchorage, said he’s got plenty of ideas to make an edibles-only tasting room successful.
“The way I look at things, as long as the municipality stays out of the way and allows us to innovate within the regulations, that makes me happy,” he said. “Let me take this and let me run with this.”
Warden said he doesn’t see much of an upside for a simple café where people would be just coming to enjoy an edible or pre-roll so he sees more opportunity in offering unique experiences to visitors.
For the Cannabaska location on Tudor Road, he said he would like to combine the edibles with a tour of the onsite cultivation and processing of cannabis from seed to sale. People would come in and buy a package of goodies, take an edible and spend some time learning about all the work that goes into growing, harvesting and selling cannabis.
Cannabaska is also in the process of opening a downtown Anchorage location. Warden said there he would like to explore an opportunity of combining the onsite consumption with a dining experience where they’d serve non-infused food but have options, like an infused olive oil, to enhance the experience.
Ultimately, he said it’ll be about getting creative with add-on experiences that make the cost of an onsite consumption space pencil out for a business.
“In my opinion that’s how it has to be,” he said. “If you’re just going to do a café, it’s going to be a lot of overhead costs without a lot of upside because what are they going to buy? Maybe a coffee and a brownie?”
Warden said Cannabaska’s attention has been focused on getting the downtown location licensed and opened, so he said realistically the onsite consumption spaces could be expected to open next year.
Matt Buxton is a freelance writer in Anchorage. Comments about this story? Email editor@AlaskaCannabist.com.