Keep the cannabis in the trunk: Anchorage Assembly extends open-container laws to pot

Anchorage drivers will soon be required to keep marijuana in the trunk of their cars, with the city Assembly voting Tuesday night to expand local alcohol beverage open-container laws to include marijuana.

The new open-container restrictions were among a set of marijuana-related ordinances unanimously adopted by the Assembly Tuesday night. The others covered the use of a fake ID or other fraudulent means to buy marijuana; the inclusion of marijuana in existing laws that prohibit minors from driving under the influence; and the further definition and restriction of the personal cultivation of marijuana.

Characterized mostly as "housekeeping" by Assembly member and co-sponsor Ernie Hall, the ordinances reflect how city lawmakers are working to bring municipal code in line with state statute. That includes incorporating the language of the statute approved by voters in November, and expanding portions of local law on alcoholic beverages to include marijuana.

Since the start of this year, the Assembly has passed measures that ban consumption in a public place, and include marijuana smoke under the city's ban on tobacco smoke.

In the case of expanding the city's open-container laws, the new rules -- which take effect in 30 days -- require marijuana to be kept out of the passenger compartment of a vehicle. That generally means keeping cannabis in the trunk.

The law includes an exception for cannabis "in the possession of a passenger in a motor vehicle for which the owner receives direct monetary compensation and that has a capacity of 12 or more persons," like a charter bus. In a station wagon, hatchback or other vehicle without a trunk, marijuana should be stored "behind the last upright seat." Marijuana can be legally transported via motorcycle.

Passengers riding in a licensed limousine could carry marijuana as long as the windows are tinted and the partition between driver and passengers is closed. The ordinance doesn't specify whether marijuana, like alcohol, could be consumed inside a limo.


A statewide measure to expand open-container laws to include marijuana was recently adopted in Washington state. City prosecutor Seneca Theno said the Anchorage law is designed to avoid confusion seen in Colorado about whether or not a container was defined as "open" and simply require drivers to keep cannabis in the trunk of a car.

Theno said city attorneys don't have immediate plans for additional criminal ordinances beyond the ones adopted Tuesday. Attention is now turning to city planning and licensing laws, she said.

Hall said a Wednesday afternoon meeting of the Assembly's committee on marijuana regulation and taxation is expected to include discussion about city zoning laws.

Spice updates

Also on Tuesday, the city's police and fire chiefs gave brief updates on efforts to contain the spread of the synthetic drug Spice, which has been blamed for a spate of deaths and hospitalizations across Anchorage this summer.

Fire chief Denis LeBlanc said there appeared to be two different varieties of the drug in Anchorage. He said multiple city agencies are trying to put together a task force to tackle the problem.

He also said that on Sunday, emergency crews picked up people that were still wearing hospital bracelets from being released the day before.

"There's a lot of repeat ... frequent fliers," LeBlanc said.

Police Chief Mark Mew, said police had identified a "handful" of people that may be responsible for selling the product in the area of Third Avenue and Karluk Street. He said he believed at least one arrest had been made, although he wasn't sure if it was explicitly related to Spice, or if it was for a different reason, like an outstanding warrant.

Assembly member Paul Honeman, the chair of the Assembly's public safety committee, questioned the chief about whether the Assembly should pass an emergency measure to more harshly penalize the distribution of the drug. Mew acknowledged that city misdemeanor laws have proven ineffective.

Honeman said city attorneys are looking at ordinances elsewhere in the country that could help police make arrests in the sale of substances that cause serious health concerns or hospitalization.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.