Marijuana

Parents pleaded with Denali Borough Assembly members Wednesday night to stop a retail cannabis dispensary from opening in Healy.

There’s just one problem. There is no zoning and there are no taxes or regulations of any sort in the Denali Borough. All the assembly can do is protest in a letter to the state of Alaska. The letter must detail a legitimate concern about the store.

But in this case, the borough hasn’t defined what a legitimate concern would be, according to borough clerk Amber Renshaw. The state, she said, would determine if the concern is “arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable.”

The assembly postponed a decision on whether to protest the state license application and scheduled another public hearing for 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 17. That meeting will take place at the Tri-Valley Community Center. The assembly is required to make a decision by May 1, since the application for the business was filed with the borough on March 1. Action must be taken within 60 days.

The nine parents and grandparents who testified against the dispensary opening made strong and personal statements.

“When I first heard it was coming, my reaction was ‘Oh no! Not in Healy!’ “ said retired teacher Dorothy DeBlauw. “Is this best for kids?”

Tony Graham Jr. fears a cannabis dispensary in the middle of Healy will provide easy access to cannabis for children.

“There’s already one in the canyon,” he said. “Where does it stop?”

Denali Cannabis Cache is a seasonal dispensary about 12 miles south of Healy.

Denver Urlaub worries about the effect a local cannabis shop will have on children and on property values.

“If you can’t stop it for some reason, then tax it to the point it’s unattractive,” testified Erik Haugan. “We don’t want it in our town.”

There are no taxes in the Denali Borough, and as assembly member Krista Zappone pointed out, recent proposals for zoning or taxes were soundly rebuffed by the community.

“Obviously, we know it’s state law, it’s legal in the state,” testified Stacey Urlaub. “The difference is how it is accessible to our kids. Our adults can drive to other locations. The closer it is to home, the easier it is to access. Bringing the shop nearby makes it very easy for children to get hold of.”

Brad Randall fears that opening a cannabis dispensary in Healy will only lead to a future potential license for onsite consumption of cannabis. According to Kristen Randall, cannabis is a gateway drug that “can destroy individuals, families and communities.” It’s use can lead to “memory loss, creating false memories, increased likelihood of mental illness and drug addictions,” she said.

“I would urge the Borough Assembly to act swiftly and responsibly to protect our communities,” she added “Please act before the community experiences a tragedy that will force the assembly to act.”

The owner of the dispensary is Susan Nolan, who has been a registered nurse in Alaska for more than 40 years. She already owns the cannabis store Alaska Fireweed in downtown Anchorage.

“I was really shocked when I entered the cannabis business to see who walks into our store,” she said. “The average age is 45 to 60.”

Nolan talked about how strict state regulations are to prevent children or anyone impaired from even entering the store.

“I believe cannabis is very safe and the state of Alaska voted for it,” she said. “The operator in the park (Denali Cannabis Cache) has operated very responsibly and set a very high standard for the cannabis industry. I hope you’ll support our store.”

In the end, the assembly decided it wants to hear from more residents, so it set the public hearing for next Wednesday.

“I do think the community needs to have some time to mull over and decide and be able to let us know exactly how they feel about it,” assembly member Eileen Holmes said. “Because this is who we are representing: the people, not ourselves.”

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at kcapps@newsminer.com. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.

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