The Denali Borough mayor’s first tie-breaker vote paved the way for a new cannabis dispensary to open in Healy next month. The vote was somewhat symbolic since the borough has no legal regulatory basis to deny the license.
If the license is officially approved at the May meeting of the Alcohol Marijuana Control Board, the new dispensary could be open by mid- to late May, according to owner Susan Nowland.
About 100 people attended the special hearing last week at the Tri-Valley Community Center to voice their opposition and/or support for the business, which is located on the Parks Highway at the former Tri-Valley Gas building. Sentiments appeared to be evenly divided.
“Five assembly members were in favor of not protesting this license and that was the question at hand,” said Mayor Clay Walker. “There was some pretty compelling testimony on both sides, frankly. I thought the community did an amazing job of coming out, sharing their voice and opinions with the assembly.”
Opponents feared that a cannabis dispensary in Healy makes the drug too easily accessible to local children. Proponents talked about the benefits of CBD, the medical component of cannabis.
Being in the position of casting the deciding vote was not a comfortable spot to be in, the mayor said.
“I have never had to cast a tie-breaker in my six years of doing this,” he said.
Walker said he voted not to protest the license because he believed the majority of assembly members were not in favor of protesting either. Plus, a protest would have required a specific regulatory reason, “and we had none,” he said.
“It’s a legal enterprise going in a legal place,” the mayor said. “Their application was complete.”
If borough residents want to regulate the cannabis industry in the Denali Borough, it must be done through a local option process, he added, perhaps through zoning or conditional use permitting. Neither of those currently exist. Hearings on that exact topic were held last October and the community decisively opposed any kind of regulation.
The former Tri-Valley Gas building at Mile 248.5 Parks Highway will continue to hold a convenience store, deli, gas station and propane sales. The former owners will continue to manage the laundry and campground.
“We are co-sharing the building,” Nowland said.
“Our goal is to be a good neighbor, a good provider and our job is to help educate the community,” she said.
Nowland already owns a cannabis dispensary in Anchorage called Alaska Fireweed and is looking forward to opening this second location, although the name of this new store is yet to be announced.
This would be the second cannabis dispensary in the Denali Borough. Denali's Cannabis Cache is open seasonally in the Denali Canyon area.
A longtime nurse, Nowland grew up in a small town and is excited to reconnect to small town living in the Healy community. The majority of her business comes from tourism, she said. So Healy seemed a likely spot.
“I really am excited,” she said. “I like the start up and integrating with the communities. I was that mom that was so afraid of pot with my kids. It’s an amazing new world. I never thought I’d be in it; that’s for sure.”
“It’s amazing how many people use it for health,” she said. The average age of her customers in Anchorage is between 40 and 65, she said.
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at email@example.com. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.