So, you’re visiting Alaska and wondering about weed. You’ve come to the right place.
Please, follow me for a few hundred words about the 49th state’s unique legal cannabis industry. We’ve got an overview of where you can find what you’re looking for. And how to safely consume in a way that respects a, frankly, confounding patchwork of rules and regulations.
Whether you’re a cannabis connoisseur or just looking to sample a novel local offering during vacation, Alaska’s pot industry covers the full spectrum of products.
Alaska has long had permissive rules when it comes to cannabis, but following a 2014 ballot initiative, the state fully legalized recreational consumption for anyone 21 and older. That includes tourists, provided you can proffer a valid ID. Cannabis is regulated more or less like alcohol, so if you’re wondering if something is legal or not, ask yourself “Would I get in trouble doing this with a cocktail in my hand or an open beer?”
The big caveat there is that Alaska has almost no equivalents of bars for pot. With the exception of one establishment in Fairbanks, Good Titrations, there are no “pot cafes” or easy commercial locations in which to light up.
This leaves visitors with relatively few places to legally consume. Most hotels and bars ban indoor smoking (of everything). If you’re staying on private property, check the rules or with your host. As with alcohol, it remains unlawful to consume in public parks and greenbelts.
This all gets especially confusing given that federally-governed entities like planes, marine ferries and national parks within Alaska still abide by full prohibitions on cannabis. The state has a handy and comprehensive guide about lawful consumption while you’re visiting.
Where to buy
Most cities and towns in Alaska have cannabis retail shops. The state has the highest number of retailers per capita of any in the union (take that, Oregon!). If you’re in population centers like Anchorage, Juneau or Fairbanks, you should have no problem finding a number of high-quality retailers. Even smaller towns that tend to see lots of summer tourists and cruise-ship passengers have multiple well-stocked businesses with a full range of products.
This is not the case in small, rural, primarily indigenous communities, some of which have bans on cannabis commerce as they do with alcohol.
Shops abide by strict standards for ID’ing customers, so make sure you have your driver’s license or a state-issued ID handy when you enter. They also deal primarily in cash, though businesses will typically have an ATM on site. A few have recently started processing debit cards. But don’t expect to just breeze in with your AmEx or Apple Pay.
Once inside, “budtenders” are on hand to help you find what you need, and are generally exceptionally well versed in the merits of the products on hand. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The industry is still relatively new, and staff, especially budtenders, are accustomed to helping customers find what they are looking for, not dismiss or belittle people who are new to cannabis.
Same as you would with a barista or bartender, always tip your budtender.
What to buy
Owing to a number of factors, Alaska has a unique cannabis industry relative to other states that have legalized recreational use. Though there are some bigger players, the state’s cultivators, manufacturers and retailers are generally small and independently run. We are overwhelmingly a “mom and pop”-type cannabis industry, without the major corporate and heavily financed conglomerates that have begun to dominate in the Lower 48. At least so far.
The cannabis scene here is creative, collegial, comprehensive and high-quality. You’ll find most of the same products you’d encounter in bigger, more sophisticated markets. The caveat is that the range of options, particularly for more cutting edge and highly refined products, might be a bit smaller.
And a bit more costly. Everything is more expensive in Alaska, from energy costs to cultivation equipment to labor, and that is reflected at the point of sale. Businesses work hard to keep costs low for consumers, but you’re still likely to find familiar products a bit pricier than if you’re buying them in Seattle or Los Angeles.
Bud flower remains the most popular product in retail shops across the state, with plenty of strains and strengths to choose from. Alaskans have tended to prefer higher THC strains, which are generally what’s most ubiquitous at product counters.
There are lots of small and ambitious edible operations that have thrived in the last few years. Cookies and gummies, sure, but also highly local fare like THC-infused fireweed honey, cannabis ice cream and “strawberry moose milk,” which … does not actually come from a moose. It can be hit or miss wandering into a shop if you have a specific edible product in mind, so check the menu online or look up an edible manufacturer’s website and see where they supply their products.
As far as more avant-garde concentrate products go, from THC cartridges to sugar wax to live rosin offerings, Alaska lags just slightly behind what’s happening in major markets. Again, best to query a particular store or company in advance if you have a specific product you’re intent on purchasing.
Whatever your level of interest in cannabis, spending a little bit of cash while you’re visiting (even if it’s just on a shop T-shirt or hat) supports local businesses and chips in a little tax money to our state budget, which are things to generally feel good about.
And lastly: Always, always tip your budtenders.