Specifics of Alaska's marijuana bars remain on the table, as the state Marijuana Control Board voted Thursday to send draft rules governing the proposed bars back for public comment, with only one minor tweak.
"It is proving to be one of the more high-interest regulatory projects that we've had," board member Mark Springer said during Thursday's meeting. "There's a lot of public concern about this; there's a lot of support for it."
Initial draft rules were approved in May. Retail stores would apply for a separate license for the "on-site consumption area," akin to a bar or cafe, where customers could use marijuana.
Alaska is the only state where regulators have carved out in their rules a public place where people can go to smoke or eat cannabis. With no precedent to follow, the board is moving forward cautiously.
"We need to do more work on this," Board Chair Peter Mlynarik said.
As the rules stand now, food and nonalcoholic beverages could be served. The consumption area could be either indoors or outdoors, but it would need to be removed from the rest of the store with a separate entryway and ventilation system. Limits are set on how much a person can buy in a single transaction.
The only change made to the rules Thursday allows consumers to take any unused product out of the consumption area when they leave, stored in a child-proof container, instead of having to consume it all or throw some away.
Major aspects that remain up in the air are ventilation – and how to ensure employee health and safety in a room where there is cannabis smoke – and tracking the marijuana purchases.
Concerns about secondhand smoke — and whether servers exposed to that smoke would get high — were among the topics of discussion Thursday. Board member Brandon Emmett introduced language that would put the burden to provide adequate ventilation on the businesses, but a lack of specifics caused it to be voted down.
"We can definitely come up with regulations that are measurable and enforceable," Emmett said afterwards.
Currently, the draft rules for marijuana bars would allow customers to make a purchase from a retail store, then wander over and purchase additional marijuana for consumption on-site. The board discussed whether that created a way for people to bypass the limit of 1 ounce of marijuana allowed for purchase under the law.
There was also discussion about whether a person would be permitted to consume more than what is safe and then potentially operate a vehicle, similar to concerns with traditional bars that serve alcohol.
But the board didn't adopt any further changes to the rules Thursday. Now, they will go back out to the public for additional comment before returning to the board during their meeting in September.
There's no timeline for the board to complete the rules; Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office director Cynthia Franklin noted some projects related to alcohol have stretched out over three years.
The meeting will continue Friday. The board will continue reviewing 31 proposed marijuana businesses up for license consideration.
The board will also consider whether growers will be able to use mature "mother" plants at the onset – the cuttings of which are used to create clones – or if all plants will need to be immature when state inspectors tour a newly opened facility.
Also worth noting from Thursday's meeting:
* Gov. Bill Walker signed a bill into law this week authorizing the state to send marijuana business owners' fingerprints to the FBI for a national background check. Those background checks won't come back until roughly October. About 200 licenses are likely to be approved by then, Franklin said, and any delays for the businesses will occur only if a background check comes back flagged.
* The board also voted to remove the control office director's ability to cast the deciding vote in case of a tie. That means if only 4 board members are present, and there is a tie vote, the motion will fail.
* As of July 1, 373 license applications had been received by the state. Of those, 52 had been voided, and the rest were in various stages of completion. Four are "active," awaiting the state's final inspection.