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Alaska Marijuana News

State abandons proposal for in-store marijuana consumption

A proposal to allow customers to consume marijuana at retail pot stores in Alaska was abandoned Thursday by the state Marijuana Control Board.

In a 3-2 vote at the board's regularly scheduled meeting, the project was taken off the table.

Loren Jones, who holds the public health seat on the board, and Peter Mlynarik, the public safety seat, both cited public comment complaining about the possibility of secondhand smoke in a public establishment.

Rural board member Mark Springer, who often acts as the swing vote in board proceedings, said he was also skeptical ventilation technology existed that could allay some of those concerns.

Springer urged additional caution given the new presidential administration and the attorney general nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions R-Ala., who has taken an anti-marijuana stance.

"We don't want to draw a whole lot of attention to what is going on in this state with marijuana," Springer said.

He suggested waiting to see what would happen with a similar proposal in Maine, where state-licensed marijuana social clubs were included in a November 2016 voter initiative that legalized recreational marijuana there. The clubs aren't expected to start operating until at least 2018, according to the Portland Press Herald.

"Let's see what Maine does, you know? Let's see what they do," Springer said.

Industry board members Nick Miller and Brandon Emmett voted against the decision to kill the Alaska project.

"This is an extremely shortsighted decision in my opinion, one based upon perceived dangers and political fear," Emmett said in a text message after the vote Thursday. "I hope that this board would be open to revisiting the issue in the future when we realize the sky has not fallen."

The control board first voted to begin work on regulations for on-site consumption areas, akin to a marijuana bar or cafe, in November 2015.

A draft of the Alaska proposal went out for public notice in May and July of 2016. In September, those rules still weren't finalized, and the board decided to delay further action until October, when a third round of public comment went out.

Before the proposal was voted down Thursday, the board was told all three of those public notices had been issued incorrectly, and would need to be sent out once again for the project to move forward.

Sara Chambers, who is serving as acting director of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office following former director Cynthia Franklin's resignation in January, said she came across the issue while preparing for the board meeting.

Chambers said there was "absolutely no malicious intent, but in the rush of things perhaps lacked the oversight of the process required," and the process would be corrected going forward. Additional training on the regulations process is currently underway, she wrote in an email later Thursday.

Miller said during the meeting he worried about the public perception in yet another delay.

"I feel like they're going to lose confidence in us. I'm losing confidence in us, sitting here. So this is very disappointing," he said.

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