The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday urged state marijuana regulators to pass laws allowing tourists and locals to smoke or consume marijuana in retail shops, saying it's a problem that people can buy commercial pot products but can't legally smoke it outside of private homes.
The resolution came ahead of the Alaska Marijuana Control Board's meeting in Fairbanks this week. The statewide regulatory board is expected to weigh several proposals related to marijuana consumption in retail stores.
In February, the board abandoned a proposal that would have made Alaska the first state in the country to allow marijuana consumption in retail stores. The other three states where commercial shops have opened — Washington, Oregon and Colorado — have not adopted statewide provisions for in-store use. Some international cities, notably Amsterdam, have allowed "marijuana cafes" for customers to buy and use pot.
Anchorage is Alaska's largest city and draws a large number of tourists each year. Assemblyman Christopher Constant, who represents downtown, spearheaded the resolution, saying he's worried about widespread public consumption. Smoking or consuming pot in public areas, including in public parks, is illegal under city and municipal law.
Assemblywoman Amy Demboski, who voted against the resolution along with Dick Traini, Fred Dyson and Eric Croft, unsuccessfully tried to set it to a public hearing later in July. She said it was a significant policy statement by the Assembly and should have more public input.
Though the resolution offered explicit support for regulations that allow pot to be consumed in retail stores, Constant said he didn't intend it as a policy statement. He said it was meant to nudge Marijuana Control Board members into taking some kind of action on the issue.
Assemblyman John Weddleton, who supported the measure, agreed the Assembly would work out the details later.
"All the details on secondhand smoke and safety, it's something to work out on our own," Weddleton said. "This gives us a chance to do that."
The resolution was specific to downtown, which drew a complaint from Assemblyman Traini, who did not support the measure.
"We don't write ordinances to make Anchorage more attractive to tourists," Traini said.
Constant's resolution doesn't have a legal effect. But it's being forwarded to the state Marijuana Control Board to be considered during the meeting this week.
The Assembly also approved a license for a third downtown pot shop Tuesday night, which is set to open on the same block as Alaska Fireweed, the only store operating downtown.
True North Cannabis will be located at 735 W. Fourth Ave. Alaska Fireweed is open on the same block at 715 W. Fourth Ave. Great Northern Cannabis is under construction and got approval earlier this month to open at 541 W. Fourth Ave. In his resolution, Constant indicated that some residents and downtown business owners weren't happy about an "imminent proliferation" of pot shops downtown and are working on a plan to limit the number and proximity of the stores.
During Tuesday's meeting Assemblyman Pete Petersen said that the free market would decide how many pot shops could survive in a concentrated area.
The Assembly also approved a license for CloudBerry Partners, a retail store at 3307 Spenard Road.
Other Assembly business
The Assembly authorized a $500,000 consulting contract for Municipal Light & Power for an expert witness in an upcoming regulatory challenge tied to utility rates and the construction of the city's new power plant, Plant 2A.
Mark Johnston, the general manager of ML&P, told the Assembly that savings projected from the new power plant justified the expense of fighting the regulatory challenge.
The Assembly also approved using nearly $589,000 in city savings to cover revenue losses at the Sullivan Arena in 2016. A separate resolution from Traini asked for quarterly updates from the city and the private contractor that runs the Sullivan Arena on the facility's financial status.
A new collective bargaining agreement with the city firefighters union got unanimous approval. Firefighters agreed to forgo standard annual pay raises in two of the next three years, saving the city about $2.5 million, according to city estimates.