Assembly takes first swing at pot ordinance

The Juneau Assembly took its first crack at an ordinance that will give the city more control over marijuana businesses at a work session Monday night.

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 abide by. It also requires that all marijuana businesses have a city marijuana business license, without which they are not allowed to function.

At the meeting Monday, the Assembly lowered the proposed cost of that license by $200. When the ordinance left the city’s Marijuana Committee, which is where it originated, the proposed license fee was $50. The Planning Commission raised the fee to $450 in order to cover any administrative costs that the city might incur while processing the license applications.

“It went from $50 to $450, and to me that just seems rather high,” said Assembly member Kate Troll, who moved to lower the fee to $100. That motion died with a 4–5 vote, but Troll’s idea to lower the fee lived on.

Assembly member Mary Becker moved to lower the fee to $250 after Troll’s motion failed. A $250 fee would still recoup the city’s administrative costs, Troll said. That motion passed with a 6–3 vote. Assembly member Jerry Nankervis voted against both motions, but not because he disagreed with lowering the fee. He doesn’t support a city marijuana license at all.

“Not only am I concerned it doesn’t go low enough, I’m concerned that we haven’t factored in our rate of revenue from taxation,” he said of Troll’s original motion, arguing that the marijuana sales tax revenue alone should be able to recoup any administrative cost. The city expects to receive $200,000 in marijuana sales tax in the coming fiscal year, City Manager Kim Kiefer said.

Assembly member Jesse Kiehl put forward one of the less-popular proposed amendments to the ordinance, calling for a “buffer zone” between marijuana retail shops. The amendment failed with a 3–6 vote. Had it passed, it would have required at least 150 feet between all public entrances of marijuana retail stores. This would have effectively limited the number of marijuana retail shops to one per side of each block in the downtown core, Kiehl said.

He explained that clumping too many marijuana businesses together could create a “green mile” that would change the character of town wherever it occurs.

“I don’t think it’s going to stifle opportunity. I think it’s going to stifle the ill effects you can get with clumping up,” he said, speaking on behalf of his motion. This would still allow for 16 retail marijuana stores downtown, which is “still more potential retail spots than the market can support,” Kiehl said.

Assembly member Debbie White voted against the motion on the grounds that it would limit the already space-limited industry. The state requires a 500-foot buffer between all marijuana businesses and any schools, day care facilities and buildings that hold religious services.

“I would sooner put a limit on having T-shirt or gemstone stores close together,” she said.

The Assembly also voted to restrict anybody growing in a D1 zoning district from operating within 25 feet of their property lines and to require these growers to live on the same lot as their operation. Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski proposed both amendments.

This ordinance is now scheduled for public hearing before the full Assembly on May 2.

Monday was Mayor Ken Koelsch’s first Assembly meeting in his new role. Before getting into the thick of things, the Assembly thanked Becker for serving as mayor during the special election proceedings. Assembly members also thanked Barbara Sheinberg for filling Becker’s Assembly seat during the interim.

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

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