At the Alaska Marijuana Control Board meeting in Fairbanks this week, 31 marijuana licenses were up for consideration. Among them, the owner of Anchorage's Bernie's Bungalow Lounge downtown, who received state approval Friday to begin growing cannabis.
Bernie Souphanavong started selling microgreens in the 1980s, he said Friday. A few years ago, he passed the operation on to S.J. Klein. But now the space where microgreens grow will house commercial marijuana plants.
"It's just like growing tomatoes or anything else," he said of cannabis.
The microgreens will be moved to another facility, he said.
His cannabis business name? 88 Double Happiness LLC. Souphanavong chose the number 88 because it's an infinity sign, and because 8 is considered a lucky number in some Asian cultures, he said.
Double Happiness, because "why have single happiness when you can have double?" Souphanavong said.
Unlike many other potential marijuana business owners, Souphanavong described the venture as low cost.
"It's low cost for me because I already own everything," he said, including the property and the agricultural equipment. The building will still need to be retrofitted to fulfill some of the state requirements.
He knows though, there's a financial risk because there's no way to tell how large the market will really be, he said.
Souphanavong is entering into the business with his son. He has begun the process of getting Anchorage municipal approval, he said.
Souphanavong was among the many other licensees who were approved Friday. Potential growers from the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Fairbanks and Anchorage represented the bulk of the applications.
Kim Kole, who has been an active face in the fledgling industry, also saw her business license approved for her grow, Raspberry Roots.
Just like the board's June meeting, none of the applications were outright rejected. Most were approved, pending local approval, and a few were tabled, as some local governments are in the midst of deciding whether or not to ban the industry.
The day before, the board discussed rules surrounding proposed marijuana bars, which are still being finalized.
Other details to note from Friday's meeting:
*Growers must now begin their operations with six plants in order to pass the state inspection and get registered with the tracking system. Those six plants can be any size, as long as they're nonflowering. That means they're as "mother" plants, from which cuttings are taken to produce a large number of plants.
* The board gave the state Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office enforcement officers the ability to use policing powers on nonlicensees, meaning they can take action against growers or other cannabis producers, who are acting outside of state rules. These are the same enforcement power officers have for ensuring alcohol laws are followed.
*Board member Bruce Schulte introduced language to increase the parts per million testing requirement for benzene, based on past testimony by cannabis testing labs. That change now goes out for public comment.