Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board has approved regulations and paperwork for on-site consumption endorsements, and businesses are now waiting on Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer’s signature for final approval.
At its Feb. 20 meeting, the board approved the permit forms that cannabis businesses will have to complete in order to obtain an on-site consumption endorsement. The paperwork may still have amendments in the future based on industry and local government feedback, but for now, the checklist of items license holders need to apply has the Marijuana Control Board’s approval.
However, businesses still can’t submit applications for the paperwork, be approved and open up their spaces quite yet. After the Marijuana Control Board approved the regulations, they were sent to the Alaska Department of Law for review.
After that, they require the lieutenant governor’s signature before becoming official. Meyer has not signed them yet; his office just received the packet from the Department of Law on Feb. 28, according to Meyer’s Chief of Staff Josh Applebee. If Meyer signs off, they will take effect 30 days later and applications may be submitted.
In December, in a 3-2 vote of the board, Alaska became the first state to pass regulations to allow people to consume marijuana on licensed premises. It was a long-championed item by the cannabis industry, particularly those who own licenses in areas with large tourist visitation.
However, concerns about public health and safety dominated the discussion for some time as the industry and the board members tried to work out how to implement regulations.
Not long after the Dec. 20 vote, Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy dismissed Sitka Police Chief Jeff Ankerfelt from his public safety seat on the board and declined to nominate industry representative Brandon Emmett for another term on the board.
Dunleavy instead nominated Vivian Stiver of Fairbanks, who led an unsuccessful effort to ban local commercial cannabis operations in 2017, to replace Emmett. Both Ankerfelt and Emmett voted in favor of allowing onsite consumption.
With the summer tourist season coming, some businesses are hoping to have their on-site consumption areas open and available this year. The Ketchikan Gateway Borough, home to about 13,000 people, welcomes just about every Alaska-bound cruise ship each summer. As the first port a ship encounters upon entering Alaska, the city of Ketchikan can see days with 8,000 to 10,000 tourists in town.
Mark Woodward, co-owner of cannabis retail shop Stoney Moose, says his store can attract about 10 percent of that influx — maybe 800 to 1,000 people per day on a busy day. Because the cruise ships don’t allow people to use cannabis on board and consuming cannabis in public is illegal, many of his customers have to resort to either smoking somewhere discreet around town or using edibles instead.
“People will buy an edible and walk outside and open it up and pop it in their mouth,” he said.
Opening up an on-site consumption area has always been part of the plan for his business, he said. Most Ketchikan locals will likely purchase their products and go home to consume them, so the site would be targeted mostly at the cruise ship industry. Set up in downtown Ketchikan where visitors can walk to and from the store, the shop has an advantage over others situated a little farther out of town.
But it’s also a disadvantage for on-site consumption because of a clause the Marijuana Control Board included requiring businesses to be located in a freestanding building in order to allow smoking.
While that may not be a problem for businesses in Southcentral Alaska, where the communities are more spread out and more buildings stand independently, it’s a huge hurdle for Southeast, where the communities are more densely developed.
Woodward said he and his co-owners invested in a ventilated indoor room with the hope that on-site consumption would be allowed, but the inclusion of the “freestanding” clause negatively impacts that plan. They’d have to switch to a covered, ventilated deck instead.
“We have a deck that ... would be perfect,” he said. “It overlooks a salmon stream. We’re going to ventilate the deck. We have all these plans, but it’s just this unknown of, can you have a freestanding building? Down here in Ketchikan, you just don’t.”
The board discussed that consideration during its February meeting, noting the concern from some business owners who want to allow on-site consumption of edibles only. The freestanding requirement is a stipulation of the statewide Smoke-free Workplace Act and wouldn’t apply to an area that only allowed consumption of edibles.
Board chairman Mark Springer asked if the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office could look into developing separate forms for someone wanting to only allow edible consumption that would allow them to bypass the freestanding regulation.
“We’re approving this, but it’s still going to be a work in progress, so would it be fair to say that if people in industry, people in government, have got thoughts on what all should be included in this, what would clarify it for local government, what industry might think … that they can either throw it in the marijuana mailbox or flag comments on this and it will be administratively considered,” he said. “Partly that’s because this continues to be a high-interest issue.”