Alaska is set to be the first state with laws on the books regulating marijuana use in retail cannabis shops.
Alaska Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer on Tuesday signed off on new regulations that allow on-site cannabis use in retail marijuana shops. The rules go into effect April 11. That’s when freestanding stores can start to apply for endorsements from the state to allow customers to consume cannabis on their premises.
The Alaska Marijuana Control Board approved the regulations in December, but they still had to be reviewed by the state Department of Law and signed by Meyer before they could go into effect.
Meyer’s sign-off comes after years of back-and-forth by state regulators on whether Alaska’s cannabis shops should be allowed to let people use their products on-site.
“The big news is, the suspense is over,” said Mark Springer, chair of the Alaska Marijuana Control Board. “I’m sure there is a lot of excitement in the industry today.”
Mid-July could be the earliest that an on-site consumption facility might open, Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office director Erika McConnell said in an email.
Per the new rules, the area where customers will be able to consume their cannabis has to be separate from other parts of the store. There has to be a ventilation system, and there has to be a smoke-free area for employees to monitor the consumption area. People also won’t be allowed to bring marijuana from elsewhere into a store’s consumption area.
There are still hurdles that businesses will likely face in getting on-site consumption up and running. Those include workplace smoking bans and the investment it might take to comply with regulations, Springer said.
There are cities in the Lower 48 that have laws for consuming cannabis in designated spaces, but Alaska is the first to have statewide regulations for on-site consumption at retail shops, according to McConnell and others in the state’s marijuana industry.
California law “allows local jurisdictions to authorize the on-site consumption of cannabis by state-licensed retailers,” according to the cannabis blog of law firm Harris Bricken. Most local governments in California have “explicitly prohibited” on-site consumption and cannabis lounges, according to that blog.
Per Alaska’s new rules, local governments here will have the option to prohibit endorsements for on-site consumption.
The Alaska Marijuana Control Board has heard public arguments from opponents and supporters of on-site consumption stretching back to 2015.
“I was really glad everybody got a chance to say what they wanted to say,” said Cary Carrigan, executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association. “It was pretty drawn out.”
He’s excited about what the new rules could mean for tourism. Since smoking marijuana isn’t allowed in public in Alaska, tourists who want to use cannabis have had few options for where to do so legally.
“I think it’s going to be huge for us in that regard,” Carrigan said. “I think people are going to realize we’re open for business for tourists.”