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Alaska News

Bethel voters ban most alcohol while accepting marijuana

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: October 2, 2019
  • Published October 2, 2019

Bethel banned most alcohol, Utqiagvik won’t tax soda, a pair of Alaska towns prohibited most plastic bags, and Santa Claus was returned to the city council in North Pole, according to preliminary results from Tuesday’s municipal elections.

Elections were held across Alaska except in Anchorage, Valdez, Metlakatla and a handful of other towns that vote in November or in the spring. Results in most communities and boroughs will not be finalized until absentee and questioned ballots are tallied, but Tuesday night’s results in most races are unlikely to change.

With almost 62% of voters approving, the city of Bethel banned alcohol sales outside of restaurants. Voters went the other way when it came to a ban on marijuana sales: Only 47% of voters said yes to that ban. If the results do not change when absentee and questioned ballots are counted Thursday, Bethel will be Alaska’s largest city to allow marijuana but prohibit most alcohol.

It’s the latest turn in Bethel’s on-again, off-again relationship with alcohol sales.

In 2016, the Southwest hub city opened its first liquor store in 40 years. Within two years, villages near Bethel called for the store to be closed, citing a wave of alcohol-related deaths. In 2018, the Alcohol Control Board closed the store by refusing to renew its license. That fall, Bethel voters voted against a ban on all alcohol sales in the city.

With voters against an outright ban, a new, slimmer ban came to the polls this year. Alcohol sales will still be permitted at restaurants, but liquor stores are not allowed.

Other statewide highlights:

• Utqiagvik, America’s farthest-north town, declined to become the state’s first community to specifically tax soda and other sweetened beverages. Only 126 votes were cast in favor of the tax; 497 were cast against it. Voters there also declined to approve a tax on plastic bags and an increase to the tax on alcohol.

• Voters in Houston and Homer approved bans on most types of plastic bags, but voters in Sitka said no to a plastic-bag ban. The results of Houston’s vote could change as additional ballots are counted. Election-night results indicated a 51-48 lead for the ban.

• In Palmer, voters favored term limits for the mayor and city council members. An advisory vote on the issue indicated 305 voters in favor and 84 opposed.

• Ketchikan voters declined to ban marijuana cafes, with 663 votes cast against a proposal that would have prohibited marijuana consumption on a licensed premises and only 536 votes in favor of the ban. State law allows the Alaska Marijuana Control Board to certify on-site consumption for businesses that meet particular standards for ventilation and construction.

• In the capital city, Juneau voters resoundingly rejected putting city money toward a new arts and culture center. According to reports submitted to the Alaska Public Offices Commission, the campaign surrounding that issue was the most expensive in the state for the October elections. Juneau voters approved a hike in hotel taxes, and a measure to borrow money for repairs to the city’s convention center was too close to call. As many as 2,000 absentee and questioned ballots remain to be counted.

• Just under 57% of Kenai Peninsula Borough voters rejected a proposal to have a borough manager shoulder most of the region’s administrative duties, instead of the mayor. A proposal to increase the borough’s tax cap also failed; sales taxes will continue to be applied only to the first $500 of a purchase instead of the first $1,000.

• In the city of Kenai, voters turned down a proposition that would have required candidates for mayor or city council to submit a petition with the signatures of 20 registered city voters. They accepted a proposal to have new mayor and city council terms start on the Monday after the election is certified. Currently, new terms start at the second regular council meeting after the election.

Santa Claus, from North Pole, Alaska, photographed at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks in 2013. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

• In the city of North Pole, outside Fairbanks, voters returned Santa Claus to the city council. Claus, born Thomas Patrick O’Connor, was previously elected in 2015.