Proposed Anchorage law limits where, when pot businesses can open

Newly proposed Anchorage marijuana laws would restrict commercial grow and manufacturing operations to industrial areas and keep retail businesses away from community centers and homeless shelters.

The proposed regulations were released Wednesday at an Anchorage Assembly committee meeting. The regulations set up a special land-use permit for commercial marijuana establishments, which include large-scale grow operations, manufacturing, retail sales and testing facilities.

As the state Marijuana Control Board nears the adoption of statewide regulations, towns and cities are left to shape local rules for cannabis production, sales and consumption. In Anchorage, city officials have spent months examining issues in six categories: licensing; land use; criminal law; public health and marijuana edibles; policies for city employees; and taxation.

The proposed land-use regulations are the first significant document to emerge since voters approved the recreational use of marijuana a year ago. One of the more controversial elements is likely to be proposed limitations on where marijuana businesses can be. Commercial grow and manufacturing operations can only be in industrial areas under the proposal drafted by city planning officials.

Retail sales, meanwhile, would be restricted to commercial properties. All types of commercial marijuana establishments would be banned entirely from residential areas under the proposal, including backyard greenhouses.

City planners are also proposing to expand and modify the state's list of venues that require a 500-foot distance from a marijuana establishment. The following are proposed, in addition to schools, jails, churches and neighborhood recreation centers:

  • Community centers
  • Homeless shelters
  • Parks
  • Therapy centers for those with disabilities
  • Halfway houses

Several marijuana business owners attended Wednesday's Assembly committee meeting and there were mixed reactions. Theresa Collins, owner of the Anchorage cannabis social club Pot Luck Events, said the proposal seems like a "really good start" for local marijuana land-use regulations.

But she said she expected businesses to be concerned about the proposal to limit production operations to industrial areas.

Jessica Jansen of the Anchorage-based Cannafarm Co-op, a collective of growers, said the regulations effectively bar the use of commercial greenhouses that are not on industrial land.

"If you're allowed to grow lettuce, you should be allowed to grow marijuana," Jansen said.

Jansen also said she's concerned about the availability of vacant industrial land, though city planners have said that they expect marijuana operations to occupy existing industrial space.

Elsewhere in the proposed regulations, city planners aim to introduce regulations that tackle marijuana-related odors. One line in the city regulations requires premises to be ventilated so the marijuana odor "cannot be detected by a person with a normal sense of smell" at the property lot line, which McConnell said was drawn from regulations in Boulder, Colorado.

The regulations would also require retail marijuana businesses to close between midnight and 8 a.m., and retail operators applying for a permit would need to develop something called a "neighborhood responsibility plan."

The plan would demonstrate how the business will "fulfill its responsibilities to be a good neighbor, including neighborhood outreach, methods for future communication, and dispute resolution," the proposed regulations say.

On Wednesday, the members of the Assembly's Community and Economic Development Committee agreed to forward the draft regulations to community councils and to the city's Planning and Zoning Commission. There was generally positive feedback; Assembly member Amy Demboski, the chair of the committee, said she wanted to see more detail in sections on security and fire suppression.

The city clerk office is still finishing regulations that deal with licensing marijuana businesses. Meanwhile, the state regulations have also yet to be finished. But Assembly members said Wednesday they were comfortable with their draft, and didn't expect significant changes at the state level that would affect Anchorage's proposal. There was also a sense of timing: Feb. 24 marks the start of the 90-day window in which the first applications will be processed to meet the ballot initiative's May deadline for initial licensing decisions.

At the current pace, the land-use regulations will be before the Assembly in mid-January.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.