Now that Alaska's first commercial cannabis harvest is underway, readers want to know: When will marijuana shops open?
"We're just weeks away," said Cynthia Franklin, executive director of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, on Tuesday. "This is happening."
In Fairbanks, Frozen Budz is nearly done building its retail store, co-owner Destiny Neade wrote Tuesday. Frozen Budz was the first retailer approved by the state and will likely have its final inspection next week.
"Then it's just a waiting game until the labs are running," Neade wrote.
Across the state, testing facilities are the linchpin marijuana growers and retailers need for moving forward. The first harvests can't reach retail stores until that marijuana goes through the crucial step of lab testing for potency and potential microbials.
CannTest LLC, a cannabis testing facility in Anchorage's Ship Creek area, will likely be the first to open. A lengthy municipal permitting process pushed back its open date later than anticipated, said CEO Mark Malagodi.
"Mid- to late-October is what we're shooting for," Malagodi said.
Turnaround time for sample testing is 72 hours, Malagodi said. The company enters results into the statewide tracking system, which allows the grower to release the batch of marijuana to a retailer, he said.
"I've had a couple of people tell me that the day we open they'll be at our front door with samples," Malagodi said.
Back in Fairbanks, marijuana shop Pakalolo Supply Co. hopes to open around Halloween. "A lot of that is dependent on the testing labs though," co-owner Keenan Hollister wrote.
Two other testing facilities are moving toward opening this winter. AK Green Labs LLC in Anchorage has been approved by the state and hopes to open in early November, owner Brian Coyle said last week.
In Juneau, Southeast Alaska Laboratories LLC's application is under review by the state, manager Jessica Dreibelbis said Tuesday. The company hopes to be reviewed at Marijuana Control Board's October meeting, with its earliest opening at the end of November, she said.
If CannTest opens as planned, Franklin estimated marijuana shops could open during the last two weeks of October — but noted that may not include Anchorage shops.
Anchorage marijuana shops look to the Assembly
In Anchorage, five cannabis shops are looking for Anchorage Assembly approval during its meetings in October and early November.
As of Wednesday, Arctic Herbery would be the first on Oct. 4, but the city planning department has recommended pushing back that approval to Nov. 1, largely due to the store's five parking spaces.
"Considering the likelihood of this being the first retail store to open and there being a high volume of customers, it is probable that five parking spaces will not be sufficient during the first weeks," a staff report from the planning department says. "Staff recommends that the owner provide a plan for additional temporary parking spaces."
"I completely understand where they're coming from but I don't agree," Thorp said of the recommendation.
The report also asks the company conduct "additional community engagement," citing documentation for only one community meeting.
Should Thorp's approval be pushed back, the first retailers to be heard by the Assembly would be Alaskabuds LLC and Enlighten Alaska, both on Oct. 18.
"We're shooting for mid-November," said Nick Miller of Alaskabuds on the company's possible opening date.
"If all the stars align, we hope to open our doors in mid-December, in time for the holidays," wrote Jane Stinson of Enlighten Alaska. For both companies, there's still plenty to do, including finishing construction.
The Herbal Cache in Girdwood, on the Assembly's Nov. 1 meeting, hopes to start selling product before Thanksgiving, said the company's Susan Carse. Alaska Fireweed is also on the Nov. 1 meeting but declined to comment on a possible opening date.
While some are looking to open as soon as possible, Kim Kole of Raspberry Roots is taking a different approach. Kole's Anchorage Assembly meeting is slated for Nov. 15, but she doesn't plan to open for six weeks after that. She wants to avoid what happened in Seattle in 2014, when the city's only marijuana shop ran out of goods three days after opening.
"I want to make sure that we have steady product and that once we're open, we stay open," Kole said.
Southeast waits for weed and testing labs
In Juneau, Rainforest Farms is the only retail store that has been approved by the state in Alaska's capitol city. Rainforest Farms hopes to open its shop around Thanksgiving, said co-owner James Barrett. The company will sell cannabis it is growing in its cultivation facility, and plans to wait it out and see if testing facility Southeast Alaska Laboratories is up and running by then.
"We're really close. It's pretty cool," Barrett said.
For retail store Weed Dudes in Sitka, also approved by the state, problems remain with how product will get to the island. Three growing facilities are licensed in the city, but "nothing in Sitka is going to be ready until the first of the year," said Michelle Cleaver of Weed Dudes.
Cleaver isn't willing to risk the air or sea transport from growers on the road system unless she can get some assurance from federal agencies, so for now she doesn't have a firm open date.
In Skagway, Remedy Shoppe will be the first retailer that receives its final state inspection and license. Owner Tara Bass wasn't sure when they'd open.
"Right now I'm just getting all my ducks in a row, and when there are legal products I'll be available and ready."
Meanwhile, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough will vote whether to ban commercial cannabis on Oct. 4. If the ban doesn't pass, the state marijuana license applications that are completed will likely land on the control board's Oct. 27 meeting for review.