Marijuana meeting, scholarship bill things to know about

JUNEAU — The board tasked with regulating Alaska’s legal pot industry is set to meet as the date to begin accepting marijuana business applications nears. Also in the days ahead, lawmakers plan to discuss a bill that would require students who receive state-sponsored merit scholarships or financial aid grants to repay them if they don’t complete their degrees or certification programs within six years. The chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court also is set to deliver the annual State of the Judiciary address.

Here are a few things to watch for this coming week:

Marijuana

The Marijuana Control Board is scheduled to meet Thursday, less than two weeks before the board is to begin accepting applications on Feb. 24.

The board, which has drafted regulations for the industry, is seeking a legislative fix after the state Department of Law rejected references in the regulations to national criminal history checks. The department said the Federal Bureau of Investigation needs specific authority in state law to require fingerprinting and use of FBI records, and that authority currently doesn’t exist for marijuana business licenses.

A law passed last year included language prohibiting the issuance of licenses to individuals who have had felony convictions within five years of their application or are on probation or parole for that felony.

“We’re stuck between two statutes. One says, ‘Don’t license felons.’ One says, ‘Begin accepting applications in February,’” board director Cynthia Franklin said. “Unless there’s a legislative fix, we don’t have the statutory authority to check out-of-state criminal histories.”

She said she has faith the Legislature will act.

Heath Hilyard, an aide to Rep. Cathy Tilton, said a marijuana bill that failed in the Alaska Senate last year could be revived, with language added to address regulators’ concerns. The bill was sponsored by Tilton’s House Community and Regional Affairs Committee. After failing in the Senate, it was kicked back to Senate Rules.

An aide to the Senate Rules Chairman Charlie Huggins says a new version of the bill could be brought up in the committee in the next couple weeks.

Student scholarships

The House Education Committee on Monday is scheduled to hear a bill from Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, that would require recipients of Alaska Performance Scholarships and Alaska Education Grants to repay their awards if they don’t complete the post-secondary degree or certification program they’re enrolled in within six years after the first payment of funds. The scholarships are merit based; the grants, based on financial needs.

The bill, HB 264, would apply to grants or awards received after Jan. 1, 2017.

Wilson, in a sponsor statement, said the state, through the programs, has provided an opportunity for students to help off-set school costs. But the opportunity comes with an obligation of completing a degree or certification, she said.

State of the Judiciary

Craig Stowers, the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court, is scheduled to deliver the annual State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the Legislature on Wednesday. Stowers was appointed to the court in 2009; his three-year term as chief justice began last July.

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