Pro-pot petition heads to Assembly

Late last month a small group of North Douglas residents started circulating a petition requesting the Juneau Assembly reverse its Nov. 9 decision to allow limited commercial marijuana grow operations in some residential areas.

Within a few weeks that petition garnered 100 signatures, but it also caught the attention of several people who disagreed. One of them decided to fight fire with fire — or in this case, petition with petition.

“I just wanted to have something to push back against the voice of Johnny-come-lately,” said Kevin Higgins, a Juneau attorney and the creator of the counter petition that received more than 100 signatures in its first week.

Higgins’ petition asks the Assembly not to reconsider the zoning rules it set for marijuana businesses four months ago.

“Help undercut the black market; help promote the mom and pop shops that residency requirements were designed to promote,” the petition reads. “Keep D1 legal.”

Initially, Higgins was circulating his petition via email, but he decided to post it on an online petition-hosting site after he realized how many people were interested in signing. Higgins had to close the petition on Wednesday at which point it had 117 signatures — shy of its 420-signature goal.

He had to close the petition in order to send it on to the Assembly to include in the meeting materials for Monday’s work session, at which the Assembly will reopen the marijuana zoning discussion. The other petition will be included as well.

Higgins’ doesn’t doubt that the petition would’ve hit its goal given more time, but amassing tons of signatures was never his goal.

“We’re not really trying to do anything other than to say there is a voice of people who have been participating and think the city made the right decision,” Higgins said. And Assembly member Jesse Kiehl, who chairs the Committee of the Whole, is grateful for the input.

“I think it’s important for the Assembly to know how many people are feeling strongly about this and to see the breadth of support for both positions,” Kiehl said. “I think the petitions show that there are a lot of people care.”

As is typically the case at Assembly work sessions, public testimony will not be allowed Monday, but Kiehl said that Assembly members have received plenty of calls and emails from constituents — in addition to the petitions — regarding this matter. Still, he is unsure what the outcome of Monday’s discussion will be.

“I don’t know if there will be any interest in cracking this back open especially after we had such an extensive process the first time around,” he said.

And therein lies the frustration of Higgins and his fellow petitioners, many of whom expressed frustration in comments attached to the petition.

“I’m just annoyed to even have to be dealing with this quite frankly,” Higgins said. “There was a pretty heavy discussion the first time. That’s the frustrating part.”

Unfortunately, that’s a part of the game, according to Assembly member Loren Jones, who also sits on the state Marijuana Control Board.

“There will always be people who either didn’t pay attention or didn’t think there would be anything of interest to them and will raise the issue that the public process was somehow flawed,” he said. “Every public process has its flaws and one of them is that people don’t pay attention.”

That’s clearly not the case any longer, however. Things get a little more complicated after the rules have already been set. If the Assembly decided Monday that it is interested in changing its zoning regulations, city officials will have to draft a new ordinance altogether, restarting the public process.

“It’s a hard process, especially for somebody like me who didn’t support the initiative, but it is law, and we have to implement reasonable regulations,” Jones said. He added that he thinks the current zoning rules set by the Assembly “were as fair as we could make them.”

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

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