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Alaska Marijuana News

Legal weed is hard to come by in Alaska

A customer pays for a purchase at Valdez marijuana shop Herbal Outfitters on opening day, Oct. 29, 2016. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

There's no legal marijuana for sale in Fairbanks.

All three stores – Pakalolo Supply Co., Frozen Budz, and GoodSinse – have shut their doors as they wait for more cannabis to hit the wholesale market.

"We left Fairbanks dry," said Destiny Neade, Frozen Budz co-owner.

Across Alaska, a shortage of commercial cannabis has caused stores to close temporarily or open only in short spurts as product becomes available and is quickly bought up.

In Fairbanks, Frozen Budz has been closed for about a month, and will likely stay shut until the end of January, Neade said.

GoodSinse opened on Dec. 11 and closed Dec. 30 after the store ran out of product, co-owner Daniel Peters said Tuesday. And Pakalolo is waiting until its own harvest is ready, likely mid-January, co-owner Keenan Hollister said.

The issue is simple supply and demand, Hollister said — like the state of Washington, which also faced shortages during the start of its recreational industry.

There hasn't been enough cannabis harvest to cover the state's retailers, Hollister said. Eleven are operating across Alaska.

As of early December, 26 growers were operating statewide, with 8 of those being cultivators constricted to less than 500 square feet of canopy, James Hoelscher, enforcement supervisor with the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, told the Marijuana Control Board during its Dec. 6 meeting.

But not all of them have harvested yet, as they came online at different times, and marijuana takes at least three months to mature.

"You can't rush a plant," Neade said.

And with Anchorage cultivators getting up and running much later than other communities, like Fairbanks, a lot of cannabis has been moving south, Hollister said.

In Anchorage, three stores are operating, but none have yet sold locally-grown weed. Marijuana has instead come from Fairbanks and Kenai to fill that void.

Customers wait to enter Arctic Herbery on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. Arctic Herbery was the first legal marijuana retail store to open in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

Arctic Herbery is out of marijuana bud, now selling only edibles and clones, owner Bryant Thorp said. He's hoping to sell marijuana from his own cultivation facility in about a week.

Dankorage and Alaska Fireweed – Anchorage's two other shops – still have some marijuana left, but both closed for a few days due to issues unrelated to supply. Fireweed was planning to reopen later Thursday.

Still, both companies lamented the lack of product on the market.

"It's kind of a little bit cutthroat out there right now," Dankorage co-owner Craig Aglietti said of the scene.

For now, retailers are being put on waitlists.

"At this point companies are offering to prepay for our crop for the next year," said Leif Abel, co-owner of Greatland Ganja on the Kenai Peninsula.

Leif Abel, a co-owner of Greatland Ganja, shows some of the marijuana drying on racks on Wednesday, September 21, 2016. The business is one of the first to harvest marijuana statewide. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

Only a few commercial cultivators have started growing in Anchorage. Fuzzy Budz is one of them. But that company has its own shop, and isn't planning to sell much of its crop to other buyers, co-owner James Millhouse said.

"Everybody in this state's been calling me, but we have our own retail (store). Yeah, my phone rings off the hook all day long," Millhouse said.

Juneau's sole shop, Rainforest Farms, opens in short bursts, open one day, closed for a week, as they harvest products from their own commercial grow.

On their first opening day, Black Friday, the store sold out in three hours, co-owner James Barrett said. Now the shop can stay open for about two days before shutting down again.

"It's definitely been hard to meet demand, that's for sure, which is good and kind of stressful too," Barrett said.

And in Kenai, Red Run Cannabis has been in a "quasi-soft-opening status" since opening in late November, owner and director Marc Theiler said. It, too, will have its own cannabis for sale in about a week.

Meanwhile, High Bush Buds in Kenai is open only four days a week to avoid running out of product, owner Patricia Patterson said. So far the strategy has meant the shop still has plenty  in stock.

And in Sitka, Weed Dudes retail shop sold much of its 10-pound supply in four days, owner Michelle Cleaver said.

Valdez's shop, Herbal Outfitters, is the exception.

"We have dozens of pounds," general manager Derek Morris said of the shop, which was the first to open in Alaska.

The reason? The store supplies a smaller population than other communities, and it had been negotiating its purchases for months before opening, Morris said.

Michael Holcomb, Herbal Outfitters’ first customer on its Oct. 29 opening day, smells a jar of marijuana held by general manager Derek Morris. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

Greatland Ganja was one of the first marijuana cultivators to harvest and sell their crops. Their product has been sold in Fairbanks, Anchorage, Valdez, Kenai Peninsula, and Sitka.

"Our business plan called on serving all parts of the state," Abel said.

Abel blames the shortage on "regulatory overburden." Matanuska-Susitna growers were put on hold pending a boroughwide vote on whether to ban the industry, which was voted down in October.

And Anchorage's city process and restrictions have delayed the industry compared to other parts of the state, Abel said.

As more cultivators come online, many of the marijuana shops expect the shortage to ease. "Mid- to the end of February a lot of cultivators and a lot pounds and a lot of supply comes onto the market," Theiler said.

But come summer, tourists will flock to the state, and "you're going to see another major league shortage," Theiler predicted.

The industry will continue to grow as the Marijuana Control Board continues approving licenses at its meetings throughout the year. The next meeting is Feb. 2.

So far Alaskans have seen a total of $91,500 in state tax revenue from the end of October and November sales.

From Oct. 29, when the first store opened, to Dec. 6, total cannabis retail sales were $750,581.59, enforcement officer Hoelscher told the Marijuana Control Board during its Dec. 6 meeting.

And as more cultivators come online, the retail prices will drop, too, Abel said, but that may take a few years.

"By summer we'll be looking at an industry that will look totally different than what it looks like now … come summer '18, it's going to be unrecognizable" Hollister said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated 10 marijuana stores were operating in Alaska and only one on the Kenai Peninsula. This has been corrected; there are 11 shops operating in Alaska and two on the Kenai — Red Run Cannabis and High Bush Buds.

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