Kenai Assembly withdraws marijuana ordinance

KENAI — The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday opted not to introduce a controversial ordinance asking voters whether commercial marijuana operations should be legal outside of cities.

Assembly President Blaine Gilman, who sponsored the ordinance, withdrew it at the assembly’s Tuesday meeting, held in Seward.

The proposed ordinance would have asked voters whether commercial marijuana operations should be legal in the borough outside the cities. Members of the public came out divided on the topic, testifying for hours at the April 5 assembly meeting both for and against the ordinance.

Gilman explained the withdrawal, saying his opinion has not changed but that the decision should begin with a citizen-generated ballot initiative.

“There is going to be an initiative process which citizens are going to bring this issue forward — I expect that there will be sufficient signatures and it will be an issue that is on the ballot in October,” Gilman said.

Gilman said he still opposes the commercialization of marijuana because of potential danger for children through the sale of edibles and the lack of a commercial banking system available for marijuana business owners. All business, including payroll and taxes, will have to be conducted in cash, which he said concerns him.

“These are serious issues that I think our community needs to debate, and I think we will debate them, and I think in October we will have an opportunity to vote on it,” Gilman said.

Bob Thraves, a resident of Soldotna, did submit an informal petition to the assembly at the April 5 meeting bearing 300 signatures in support of the ordinance. However, most were from residents of Soldotna or Kenai, who would not have a vote — only residents of the borough outside the cities would have a vote if the ordinance did make its way to the ballot.

Thraves said he was not sure he would move forward with pursuing a ballot initiative, partially because of the obstacle of obtaining enough signatures outside the cities. However, he said he would look into it, but it was not a one-man job.

“The reason I presented the numbers on the petition was to try to get at least three people (on the assembly) that would realize that the people here have already voted against marijuana,” Thraves said. “My sadness is that it doesn’t seem to make any difference at all.”

Leif Abel, the chair of the Marijuana Task Force and a co-founder of Greatland Ganja in Kasilof, said he was pleased that the ordinance was withdrawn. He said he thought the borough established a good process for permitting licensees on the peninsula through the task force and the public process.

The petition and effort to get the vote on the ballot will be a difficult one, he said. Proponents of the ordinance cited state figures that the ordinance did not pass in the borough and thus would likely not pass if it came to a vote again, but the voting districts do not line up with the city limits, so it is hard to tell what the outcome would be if the ordinance is put to a vote in the borough outside the cities, he said.

“I think the majority of the signatures they collected for that petition were from inside the cities,” Abel said. “The signatures they have to collect have to be from people in the general borough.”

• Reach Peninsula Clarion reporter Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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