Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board on Thursday approved new regulations allowing on-site marijuana use in retail cannabis stores.
The decision comes after years of deliberating on the question of whether such shops should be allowed to let customers use marijuana on premises.
Board members convened in Anchorage for their December meeting voted 3-2 in favor of the regulations, and people responded with applause. Members Nicholas Miller, Brandon Emmett, and Jeff Ankerfelt voted yes. Loren Jones and board chair Mark Springer voted no.
The regulations still need to be reviewed by the state Department of Law and be signed by Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer before taking effect, said Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office director Erika McConnell.
The rules passed by the board allow freestanding cannabis shops with endorsements for on-site consumption to sell marijuana products to customers who can then use those products on-site. Marijuana concentrates are excluded from what’s allowed to be used in shops.
The area where customers can consume has to be separated from the rest of the premises, the rules say. People also won’t be allowed to go into a store’s consumption area and use marijuana products they didn’t buy from that store.
Alaskans voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2014. Regulators have gone back and forth about whether to allow on-site consumption at retail cannabis shops since 2015.
Thursday’s vote followed testimony on Wednesday from members of the public both supporting and opposing the new rules. Some who showed up or dialed in to comment were concerned about secondhand smoke or people driving while stoned after using cannabis in shops.
Others said on-site consumption is necessary because it would give people options for places to smoke legally. State law says using cannabis in public isn’t allowed.
Miller and Emmett are the marijuana board members who represent the industry. Jones represents public health, Ankerfelt represents public safety, and Springer represents the rural public.
In Thursday’s meeting before the vote, Ankerfelt urged his fellow members to approve the rules and said “providing a safe place with adequate oversight, properly regulated … I think that actually contributes to public safety.”
The board has heard plenty of arguments for and against on-site consumption since 2015, said Emmett.
"With the amount of work that’s gone into it and with the defined need for places such as this to exist, I’d urge the board to adopt these regulations,” he said.
Opposing members also voiced their concerns.
“I think this would be a terrible, terrible mistake for us to make, to move forward on this,” Jones said at the meeting. “I think there’s too many unknowns.”
Springer said he gave an “awful lot of weight” to public health concerns, more so than discussion about where tourists or Alaskans can go to legally smoke pot.
“My very over-simplistic question is, what were they doing in 2010, what were they doing in 1995?” he said. “I don’t give as much weight to the economic, social argument as I do to the continued concerns, especially about secondhand smoke.”
It’s not immediately clear how these rules, if eventually put in place, might conflict with a ban on indoor public smoking former Gov. Bill Walker signed earlier this year.
The rules say local governments can choose not to allow endorsements for on-site consumption at cannabis stores in their communities.