Assembly: Concentrate marijuana carefully or else

Anybody attempting to make marijuana concentrates using butane, propane or any other such chemical had better think twice. Not only could using these gases result in a potentially deadly explosion, they will now result in misdemeanor charges, too.

Without objection, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly passed an ordinance Monday evening making it illegal for anybody without a license or permit to make marijuana concentrate — waxes, oils, etc. — using extraction methods that are not alcohol-, food- or water-based. This ordinance applies to all city zones; no permit or license, no gas-based extraction.

Until Monday, the ordinance allowed only for food- and water-based extractions, but Assembly member Debbie White motioned to include alcohol-based extractions, which she pointed out are not as dangerous as using explosive gases.

“Alcohol is flammable, but it’s definitely not explosive,” she said.

With a 5-3 vote, the Assembly approved White’s motion but not before consulting with Capital City Fire/Rescue Chief Rich Etheridge, who confirmed White’s point.

“I think the risk is less than those explosive, compressed gases, but there is a risk similar as when cooking with alcohol or using it in your garage,” he told the Assembly. “There is a risk, but it’s not the level of using butane or those other methods.”

Assembly members Loren Jones, Maria Gladziszewski and Mayor Mary Becker voted against White’s amendment. Jones said that he wanted the Assembly to clarify what it meant by “food-based” extraction, explaining that people are already making concentrates illegally. The only way the Assembly can make sure people are making concentrates safely is by “better defining ‘food-based.’”

Assembly member Jesse Kiehl, a proponent of the ordinance and of White’s motion said that what Jones was asking for was beyond the scope of this particular ordinance.

“In terms of dealing with this ordinance, that is dealing with things that go boom, any of these food products are OK with me because none of them go boom,” he said responding to Jones. “It makes sense that we should allow people to do alcohol-based extractions because it’s not going to make the neighbor’s house blow up.”

The members of the Assembly weren’t the only ones talking about marijuana in City Hall Monday. The Assembly discussion regarding the concentrate ordinance was preceded by a lengthier public-comment period than usual.

Four North Douglas residents, including Planning Commission Chair Nicole Grewe, spoke out against the Assembly’s decision to allow commercial marijuana operations to operate in D1 and Rural Reserve zones outside the urban service boundary. Though the Assembly established the zoning rules for marijuana businesses in early November, Grewe said it’s not too late to ensure neighborhood harmony.

“We answered the where, but we didn’t answer the how,” she told the Assembly. Grewe also took issue with the fact that the Assembly had made the “random” distinction between D1 and Rural Reserve neighborhoods inside the urban service boundary and those outside it, which is the case for her neighborhood. Not all neighborhoods outside the urban service boundary are low density, she said.

“I could subdivide my lot, put in two grow facilities, and force my neighbors to look at two marijuana farms, 1,000 total square feet,” Grewe said. “That’s not low density, not even close.”

The Assembly didn’t discuss the zoning matter further, as it was not an agenda item.

Also with a 5–3 vote, the Assembly appropriated $35,000 for the special mayoral election, which will be held in March. Assembly members Jerry Nankervis and Debbie White and Mayor Mary Becker all voted against the appropriation. The three had voted against holding a special election back in December.

The city estimates that it will spend $18,000 of the total $35,000 appropriated for the election on temporary staffing, including poll workers and ballot reviewers. The city will spend an estimated $6,000 to print ballots, and it will spend $5,000 advertising the election. The remaining $6,000 will be spent programming the ballot-reading machines, mailing ballots, renting polling places, moving election equipment to and from polling places, disposing confidential material and purchasing miscellaneous supplies.

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