Empire Editorial: Avoid Reefer Madness

  • Thursday, February 25, 2016 1:01am
  • Opinion

Depending on the way you color the world, Wednesday was either a black day for Alaska or a red-letter event.

Feb. 24 was the first day Alaskans could apply for a marijuana business license.

If history is a guide, the sun will still rise. The world will not end. Reefer madness will not overtake the 49th state.

Conversely, there will be no public celebrations. No one will be giving cannabis away on the street or smoking it freely. There will be no long lines at storefronts or raucous parties.

Wednesday was merely a landmark day in a long series of them. Alaska is the first state in the United States to create a legalized marijuana industry from scratch. Colorado, Washington, Oregon ─ all these states had pre-existing medical marijuana laws that permitted dispensaries to operate in public. Alaska, while it has had a medical marijuana law for 18 years, has never legalized marijuana storefronts. If you had a medical marijuana card, you had to grow your own to legally employ it.

That changed Wednesday, but when you look around, you might not see any sign of it.

The first businesses won’t offer marijuana for months. It will take that long for applications to be vetted and work through an extensive process. Marijuana growers will be licensed before retail stores, so don’t expect your neighborhood pot joint to open until the end of the year.

You won’t see long lines of people waiting to apply, either. All applications are being done online, and the state doesn’t even have a way to apply in person or with a paper form.

There’s also no penalty for waiting. Someone who submitted an application Wednesday will get the exact same treatment as someone who submits one next week.

We fully expect the state’s registration website to buckle under the demand, and if it does, know that the frustration is only temporary and will not harm business.

In fact, the first place you might notice a difference is in the pages of this newspaper.

The state requires businesses seeking a license to post legal notices in local newspapers and at the site they intend to license. Those notices will run for three weeks in the pages of this newspaper. If you’re curious or concerned, they’ll be here before they’re anywhere else. Also note that these advertisements are neither an endorsement or condemnation by this newspaper — it’s the law.

We will be watching these new businesses with a mixture of reservation and hopefulness that it will be a safe and law-abiding industry. While it’s sure to encounter pitfalls and potholes along the way, things will develop more smoothly as long as people remember to avoid reefer madness and marijuana business owners follow the law.

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