With marijuana deadline approaching, the most pressing issue is likely to go unresolved

A live marijuana plant being grown for personal use in Juneau.

A live marijuana plant being grown for personal use in Juneau.

The head of Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board says the agency is on course to meet a voter-imposed deadline to create regulations for the nation’s first from-scratch recreational marijuana industry, but some Alaskans may be unhappy with one aspect of the end result.

Loren Jones, a member of the MCB and the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly, said “a good 70 percent” of the public comments received by the board have been about marijuana clubs. The catch is that the board doesn’t have the authority to create or regulate clubs. That means there may be no legal place for most Alaska visitors (and residents of apartment complexes or rentals that ban marijuana) to smoke or otherwise consume it.

The board has a Nov. 24 deadline to approve regulations for the new industry, and the public has until Nov. 11 to submit written comments on the 133 pages of draft regulations listed on the MCB website.

The board will meet Nov. 20 in Anchorage to consider those public comments and possibly make changes to the regulations. In addition to the clubs issue, public comments to date have addressed proposed restrictions on advertising (marijuana retailers or growers cannot give away branded merchandise), funding (financial backers must be from Alaska), and potency (5 milligrams of THC per serving for edibles, 76 percent THC concentration for concentrates), among others.

Harriet Milks, a state assistant attorney general advising the MCB, said the clubs issue comes down to a part of Ballot Measure 2, which voters approved by a 53-47 margin one year ago. That ballot measure gave the MCB authority to regulate cultivation, retail, manufacturing and testing facilities. Nowhere did the measure give the board authority to license a marijuana club for consumption.

“If clubs are a separate licensed entity, then the board is not authorized to create a separate licensed category,” Milks said.

With consumption prohibited in retail spaces and in public, the only place to legally consume marijuana is in a private home.

“Not allowing people to have a venue for the consumption of marijuana products would be counterproductive,” wrote Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, in a letter to the marijuana board on Oct. 22. “Alcohol is served in bars, pubs, restaurants and events. Similar consideration should be given.”

In a followup phone call, Wilson said she thinks the board does have the authority to license clubs. Many other correspondents, including CBJ assemblyman Jessie Kiehl, have written comments to similar effect.

Regardless of whether clubs are on the table, Jones and control board director Cindy Franklin said public comments matter. Alaska is the first state to create a recreation marijuana industry from scratch — Washington, Oregon and Colorado already had medical dispensaries open when recreational sales were legalized — and there are many aspects to consider.

“I think in these particular regulations, the public comments made a great deal of difference,” Jones said.

Franklin said she expects that once the public comment period closes, “we will potentially see some written amendments from board members.”

Assuming the regulations are approved on Nov. 20 or Nov. 23, the last possible day before the deadline, they will then go to the Department of Law for legal review.

“It’s a really careful, fine-tooth comb review,” Milks said, and after that review, the regulations go to the lieutenant governor’s office for approval.

According to Ballot Measure 2, the state has until Feb. 15, 2016 to approve the regulations in full. That is the deadline for the state to begin accepting license applications, and the first licenses must be issued by May.

Given a 90-day cultivation cycle, the first commercial marijuana would be ready by late summer.

That’s barring any legal challenges, and Jones said he expects some. “I wouldn’t doubt if there are some lawsuits here and there from somebody,” he said. “I just think that given that it’s new, there will be people who are unhappy with the result.”

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

To submit a public comment, email john.calder@alaska.gov.

The draft marijuana regulations are available at commerce.alaska.gov/web/abc/MarijuanaRegulations.aspx for inspection, and Jones suggests a good public comment is one that is as specific as possible. For the most impact, point to the exact regulation number and wording.

Franklin adds that about half of all public comments are submitted in the last 48 hours before the deadline. Avoid the rush: Submit yours early.

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