The new year looks like it could bring big changes to the regulatory scene in Alaska as the Marijuana Control Board finally approved its first onsite consumption licenses, considers changes in its structure and looks ahead to new members.
The long waits and numerous delays when dealing with the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office have been one of the biggest thorns in the side of the growing marijuana industry in Alaska, and interim AMCO Director Glen Klinkhart is floating the idea of splitting the office in two as a solution.
In a letter to the board in January, Klinkhart explained that his time has been almost entirely consumed by issues relating to marijuana and “day-to-day marijuana-only issues.”
“This means there is no time and resources available to devote to long-term planning or the implementation of future goals for either board or the industries they are supposed to regulate,” he wrote.
He later explained the idea to the Marijuana Control Board at its January meeting, telling Anchorage television station KTUU, “There are so many resources that need to be put in other places, you’ve got two boards that are both asking for a lot of things from a lot of different places. … One of the initial problems I discovered is I couldn’t wear all of these hats.”
So he has proposed eliminating his position and replacing it with two deputy director positions, one dedicated to marijuana and the other to alcohol. Staff also would be split into separate fields.
Alaska Marijuana Industry Association Executive Director Cary Carrigan said he’s interested in seeing a better and more responsive regulatory structure but noted that the “devil’s in the details.”
“There was a good reaction to the efficiencies that would be developed by putting on that extra director and I think we’re trying to build on top of that,” he said. “There’s still no real definitive actions that are being taken, so we’re all just in the suggestion phase of this.”
Broadly speaking, the industry has been receptive to the idea, said Marijuana Control Board industry member Brandon Emmett. Allowing the office to specialize would hopefully make it more responsive.
Emmett noted, however, that there’s also talk of legislation from the Dunleavy administration that would relocate the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office to the state Division of Corporations, Businesses and Professional Licensing. He said there’s hesitation about such a proposal.
“There’s hesitation by many of us in the industry to support something like this until we’ve seen the full language in the bill because it seems like it could erode the authority of AMCO and the boards,” Emmett said.
“We’ve had our ups and downs together, but I think the industry as a whole supports the board and its director having a great deal of autonomy. A change as proposed by the administration could erode that.”
Legislation has yet to be introduced.
At the same January meeting, state regulators also approved the first two onsite consumption licenses after approving regulations nearly a year ago. Under the new licenses, GoodSinse in Fairbanks and Cannabis Corner in Ketchikan will be allowed to open special areas where customers can use products purchased onsite.
Cannabis Corner planned to open its onsite location in February, and GoodSinse planned on having its space open this summer.
The licenses were approved on a 3-2 vote. While other states have approved onsite consumption in some cities, Alaska is the first with a statewide option, though it can be limited by municipalities. Anchorage, for example, currently only allows edibles and plans to put smoking to a vote in the April elections.
Marijuana Control Board member Emmett said the approval of the licenses marks a big step in the legalization effort.
“I hope it’s one of the final nails in the coffin of prohibition,” he said. “When people have a place to consume cannabis responsibly, it’s legal. That’s the reason the onsite consumption has been such a project for so long is that until people can go and consume cannabis in a public place, it’s not really legal. It’s allowed, but you don’t have the freedoms that other substances have. With onsite consumption, it allows people the ability to go and consume somewhere, and it doesn’t have to be in their home. It really says, ‘Hey, we’re winning this one.’”
Gov. Mike Dunleavy decided not to renew Marijuana Control Board public/rural member Mark Springer, who in his personal life had been a critic of the Dunleavy administration and supporter of the recall of the governor. Dunleavy announced plans to replace Springer with Casey Dschaak of Dillingham, who’s largely unknown to the industry.
Springer was largely supportive of the industry but was skeptical of efforts to permit onsite consumption. He raised concerns over how to protect employees from secondhand marijuana smoke.
Dschaak told KDLG Public Radio that he plans to consider onsite consumption applications on a case-by-case basis, noting that some of the regulations like distance requirements could still pose problems for the industry.
“I look at marijuana as, it’s a new industry. The Lower 48’s trying to figure out a way to regulate it. We’re trying to figure out a way to regulate it,” he said. “So, every issue that comes up is new.”
Matt Buxton is a freelance writer in Anchorage. Comments about this story? Email editor@AlaskaCannabist.com.