Arctic Herbery owner Bryant Thorp will not have to defend himself against state accusations that he unlawfully gave out free marijuana samples at his Anchorage cannabis shop – but he must still make his case to local officials next week in order to open his doors.
In a meeting Thursday afternoon, Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office Executive Director Cynthia Franklin said she and her staff had reviewed the incident and had decided not to pursue action against Thorp.
"The reason really is because we don't have much evidence of the giveaway other than what Mr. Thorp admitted," Franklin told the board.
Thorp was given two notices of violation by the control office after an Oct. 21 KTUU report that he had been giving away "free samples" at the shop.
The state's notice says Thorp admitted to giving away free samples, which is not permitted under state and local rules. He responded he never intended to, and the incident was misconstrued.
"I'm delighted with the state's decision," Thorp wrote in a text message after the meeting. He declined to comment further.
Franklin told the state Marijuana Control Board that Thorp had said he had given prerolled joints away to friends and crew who had helped work on his business during a "soft opening," that wasn't open to the public. He gave the cannabis away in order to get the marijuana off the premises before his final city and state inspections, she said.
The state's notice accused Thorp of giving away cannabis on licensed premises. The state had yet to inspect the facility, the notice said, and marijuana was not part of the regulated market, and did not meet packaging and labeling requirements.
His response indicated "he did not give marijuana away to members of the public … but he did give marijuana away on a licensed premise," Franklin said.
Franklin could have chosen to file an "accusation" against Thorp after the agency's investigation, she explained to the board. That would have triggered a formal board hearing with possible fines, suspension or revocation of his license, in which Thorp could hire an attorney, and she would act as "prosecutor," she said.
The state won't move forward on the accusation. "He was trying to interpret the state and municipal process of the roll out, and he was just wrong, from our perspective … I'm fairly confident that Mr. Thorp understands the rules he broke and would not break them again," Franklin said.
Franklin also sought to clarify the state's position that he became a licensed business owner when the state approved his license, despite not receiving the final go-ahead from city and state inspectors, so personal use laws, where a person can give away 1 ounce of free cannabis, don't apply.
In his response to the state, Thorp wrote: "It was never my intent to provide free samples as the violation suggests. I closed the doors for the following week and shut down the rumor that I was giving away 'free samples' immediately."
He called media reports "misleading at best."
"For my part in this I have to apologize and insist that my interests are in line with those of the new and fledging industry and making it as non-controversial as possible," he wrote in his response.
Board member Brandon Emmett said he wanted to give Thorp an "admonishment" for the incident, for causing a ripple in the process while the marijuana industry remains heavily scrutinized.
"He very much wanted to be the first, and now he is the first — the first to receive a violation," Emmett said, referring to Thorp's early lead on opening the first pot shop in Anchorage.
Next week, Thorp will need to defend himself against the Anchorage Assembly, which has halted his license until the issue is resolved.
Assembly Vice-chair Dick Traini said the state's actions Thursday would have no bearing on how local elected officials decide to proceed.
"We could pull his license. We could say it's not a problem. We could do anything in between," Traini said in an interview. "The way we wrote this, we have complete control. It's a land use decision."
He called the control board's decision not to sanction Thorp "typical," hinting at what he and other local officials have historically seen as toothless regulation by the state when it comes to bars and liquor licenses.
"He knew what he was doing when he gave it away," Traini said.
Traini said he isn't sure what will happen on Tuesday. He said he plans to advocate halting Thorp's license for the time being.
Reporter Devin Kelly contributed to this report.