Assembly passes pot rules at Monday meeting

The final outstanding marijuana ordinance cleared the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly on Monday night with overwhelming support, finalizing the city’s marijuana regulations for the time being.

The ordinance amends the city’s Land Use Code, tightening the conditional use permit application process and establishing regulations that all marijuana businesses will have to follow. City code will now require marijuana businesses applying for conditional use permits to provide plans detailing how they intend to mitigate odor, dispose of waste products and keep facilities secure.

The ordinance also requires that all marijuana businesses have a $250 city marijuana business license in order to operate.

Before the final roll call, which ended in a 7–2 affirmative vote, several Assembly members lauded the ordinance as balanced and responsible, a promising start for regulating a new industry.

“We made this a reasonable approach,” Assembly member Kate Troll said, speaking in support of ordinance and assuring the public that the Assembly had not been “driven by reefer madness.”

Most Assembly members echoed Troll’s comments — either in speech or with their votes. Maria Gladziszewski has worked on the ordinance since its conception in the Assembly’s Marijuana Policy Committee, which was disbanded after fulfilling its purpose. Like Troll, she spoke in favor of the ordinance, calling it “the best we can come up with.”

Other Assembly members begged to differ, each with their own reasons. For Jerry Nankervis, one of the two dissenting votes, the city-mandated business license was the “hurdle” that he couldn’t get over. Though the ordinance contained a lot of regulations that he would stand by, he called the license a “slippery slope,” forecasting that the Assembly could start requiring city licenses for other businesses.

“More government, more layers,” he said.

Assembly member Mary Becker, the other dissenting vote, took issue with the fact that the city is allowing marijuana cultivation in D1 residential zones. Though this ordinance didn’t set the zoning rules — those were set in a different ordinance in November 2015 — Becker argued that the Assembly hadn’t done enough to remedy this alleged problem.

“We have not made corrections enough for D1 zoning because I agree with these people living in D1 areas,” she said opposing the ordinance, referencing three North Douglas residents who testified against allowing certain marijuana businesses in D1 zones.

Not satisfied by other Assembly members’ claims that the code could be revisited if needed as the industry grows, Becker argued that major changes wouldn’t likely pass. Once businesses have started, such changes could destroy them and are therefore are unlikely to pass, she said.

“I think we have to be right the first time because I don’t think we’re going to have changes on any of the major issues,” Becker said, though she didn’t offer a solution to the D1 zoning problem.

Assembly member Debbie White voted to pass the ordinance, without much praise for it. She approached the vote with an attitude straight out of a Nike ad: Just do it, she told her peers.

“At one time we did have an ordinance that was balanced for the most part, but we keep opening this can of worms and listening to the loudest voices in the room,” she said. “We keep adding layers to this thing, and it keeps getting messier.”

Though Monday night’s meeting marked only the second time the full Assembly discussed the ordinance — the first was at a work session about a month ago — it has been around for a while. The Marijuana Policy Committee, on which White sat, kicked it around for a couple months before passing it to the Planning Commission, which did the same.

Though White approached the vote more or less as a choice between passing a mediocre ordinance or scrapping “hundreds of hours that have been put into it,” Assembly member Jesse Kiehl saw it differently.

“The time we’ve put into isn’t worth any more than what is written down and whether it works or not, and I’m going to suggest that what we have written down works pretty well,” he said.

Kiehl, the former chairman of the Marijuana Policy Committee, was the one who moved to pass the ordinance earlier in the evening.

No vacancy

The Assembly also passed an ordinance outlining the procedure for filling vacancies on the Assembly and in the mayor’s office.

Should the Assembly find itself in a position similar to November when former Mayor Greg Fisk died, leaving the mayor’s seat empty, the decision whether to hold a special election will not be as “spirited,” as Nankervis put it mildly Monday night.

In an effort to depoliticize the succession process, the Assembly directed the city’s legal staff to draft the ordinance in a manner that would remove the guess work that left the Assembly at odds over whether to hold a special election in December. The cost of the $35,000 special election was highly debated.

“I believe the importance of codifying this, so that we don’t have what I’ll call spirited debate, outweighs my desire to wing it again,” Nankervis said, speaking in favor of the ordinance.

In the event that the mayor vacates his or her seat, the deputy mayor will succeed the mayor. If this happens more than eight months before the next regular election, the city will hold a special election to fill the seat. If the next regular election is less than eight months away, or if the mayor’s term would’ve ended at the next general election regardless of how many months away it is, the special election is a no-go.

During any interim period, the Assembly will appoint a replacement for the deputy mayor’s seat by majority vote. Once the mayor’s seat is filled by an election, the deputy mayor can return to his or her seat.

The Assembly adopted these rules with a 7–2 vote. The dissenting votes came from Becker and Mayor Ken Koelsch, who said he objected to “the whole thing with special elections, that’s where I’m coming from.”

Koelsch was elected in March running on a platform that was almost entirely centered on his contempt for the Assembly’s decision to hold a special election.

Bringing in the big guns

The Assembly voted 8–1 to give $50,000 to the city’s law department, which will use the money to hire outside counsel to help fight the Cruise Lines International Association Alaska’s lawsuit against the city.

CLIA Alaska and CLIA announced in mid April that they were suing the City and Borough of Juneau and a few city officials over what they perceived as a misuse of local cruise passenger head tax money.

City Attorney Amy Mead previously told the Empire that the city will need to seek outside legal counsel to help fight the suit, which will likely be lengthy and costly.

• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or at sam.degrave@juneauempire.com.

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