Voters in three Alaska communities on Tuesday firmly rejected measures that would have banned the cannabis industry locally.
Marijuana businesses in the city of Fairbanks, the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the Kenai Peninsula Borough will be able to keep operating after voters in each area decided against propositions to close all cannabis stores, grows, and manufacturing and testing facilities.
"There's a sense of relief, a giant sense of relief, I would say. That's probably the overwhelming emotion and sentiment at the moment," said Karen Bloom, co-owner of the Alaskan Blooms marijuana cultivation facility in Fairbanks and chair of the "Keep Cannabis Legal Fairbanks" campaign.
With 98 percent of the ballots tallied in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, 70 percent of voters rejected the prohibition of cannabis industries, unofficial results showed Wednesday morning. In the city of Fairbanks, 69 percent of voters opposed the ban.
The Fairbanks area has the highest concentration of cultivation facilities in Alaska. In August, 14 growers within the city and borough paid taxes, out of a total of 56 across Alaska. There were six marijuana stores.
The group supporting the ballot measures in Fairbanks city and borough had argued that marijuana businesses were causing problems in neighborhoods. The industry said the group misrepresented the issue.
Jim Ostlind, who headed the measures to shut down the industry in Fairbanks, said he was shocked that so few voters supported the ban.
"We had these initiatives put on the ballot so our community could decide directly … and as far as I'm concerned, the community has spoken," Ostlind said.
In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, with 97 percent of ballots counted, 64 percent of voters rejected the ban, the election summary shows.
Leif Abel, co-owner of the Greatland Ganja marijuana cultivation business in Kasilof, said the vote had been a divisive issue on the Peninsula. Supporters of the ban argued that commercial marijuana was dangerous for youths.
"The biggest thing that I would like to see is (that) the community down here continues to respect each other like we always have, and help each other like we always have," Abel said.
Six shops were open in the Kenai Peninsula Borough as of August, and a total of 14 grows were operating in or near the communities of Homer, Seward, Nikiski, Soldotna, Kasilof and Sterling.
Businesses within Homer and Seward city limits would not have been affected by the ban.
There are no businesses inside Soldotna city limits, where a two-year ban is set to expire in January. Mayor Pete Sprague last month broke a tie vote on the Soldotna City Council that would have kept the ban indefinitely, according to the Peninsula Clarion.
"We have the opportunity to tax the heck out of it," Sprague said of cannabis, the Clarion reported.
When Alaska voters legalized recreational cannabis in 2014, the Fairbanks area generally supported the measure, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported at the time. On the Kenai Peninsula, voters were split, the Clarion reported.
Under Alaska's law, local jurisdictions can ban the cannabis industry in two ways: Residents can gather signatures for a petition and ask for a ban in local elections, or the local government can pass a ban.
All three measures that failed Tuesday were put on the ballot by petition signatures. Supporters of all of them had hoped to put the issue on last year's ballot but missed the deadline.
At around 9 p.m. Tuesday, Abel said he was at the election headquarters at a local Kenai business, and the scene was dying down. A few of his employees had just left.
"They know they have to be at work at 8 in the morning," Abel said.