The owners of Alaska’s smallest marijuana retail shop are hoping for an early spring opening, and they’re closer now to that goal than they were are the start of the week.
On Wednesday night, the Juneau Planning Commission unanimously approved a conditional use permit that will allow Fireweed Factory LLC, a marijuana cultivation and retail business, to operate out of the Front Street shop that used to house the Artifacts.
Fireweed Factory will use the roughly 160-square-foot shop strictly for selling marijuana. The company will grow the marijuana it sells in a cultivation facility out by the airport, according to Paul Disdier, the company’s manager and majority owner.
With his conditional use permit in hand, Disdier needs only a building permit for the Front Street shop to be ready to operate. That, and marijuana to sell, but the business has a few more regulatory hoops to jump through on that end. It will likely be early March before Fireweed Factory’s first harvest.
“We’re hoping, if everything goes well, to open sometime in March,” Disdier told the Empire.
The company still has some remodeling to do in its tiny retail space, but — like everything else in that space — that project is “not going to be huge,” Disdier said.
The triangle-shaped shop is wedged between the Imperial Bar and Ben Franklin. At its widest point, the shop is only about 9 feet across, according to city planner Eric Feldt.
Disdier isn’t yet sure how many people will be able to fit inside the shop at once. But he said that the Fireweed Factory won’t allow more people in the space than common sense dictates.
“We don’t want that space to be so crowded that we can’t keep an eye on people,” he said. “If six people works fine in there, then it’ll be six people. If 10 works, then it’ll be 10.”
The fire marshal will ultimately decide how many people can legally occupy the building at one time.
Due to the limited space, the company will have an opening window next to the door so employees can check the IDs of any interested shoppers. No one will be able to enter the building until they’ve presented identification to the business’ greeter, Disdier said.
In the event that there is a long line of people waiting to get in — as was the case when Rainforest Farms LLC opened its retail shop last week — Disdier said the greeter will abandon his or her speak-easy style window spot and check IDs outside.
The Planning Commission approved Fireweed Factory’s conditional use permit without much ado, but a few downtown business owners spoke out against the state’s smallest marijuana store Wednesday night.
Ben Franklin owners Fred and Mike Wiley testified during the meeting, expressing concern that having a marijuana retail store next door could threaten their “family-oriented” atmosphere.
When asked by Commissioner Nathaniel Dye whether the bars that surround the business were a concern, the Wileys said that they didn’t have a say in that matter.
“They were here when we got here; this is a new venture,” Fred Wiley said.
Kenny Solomon-Gross, an owner of the theater company Gross Alaska Inc., also testified against the Fireweed Factory. He said that he didn’t feel comfortable with a marijuana business setting up shop across the street from the Gross 20th Century Theater.
“I’m not so sure that I’d really feel that parents of customers who come to my theater would feel comfortable with people buying marijuana across the street,” he said.
Before the Planning Commission voted to approve the conditional use permit, commissioner Bill Peters took a moment to address the public comments. Though he said he empathized with the business owners concerned about Fireweed Factory, Peters pointed out that the commission already discussed marijuana business and zoning regulations at length.
“That was really the time to step forward,” he said, adding that many members of the “cannabis community” participated in those meetings. “I think that they strive very hard to be responsible business owners. This is a part of who we are, and it’s going to be a part of our culture.”
• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or firstname.lastname@example.org.