The Arctic Sounder

Utqiaġvik allows sale of marijuana products to promote local businesses

Utqiaġvik residents are now able to purchase marijuana edibles and other products on city property.

Utqiaġvik City Council voted this month to allow importing and selling of marijuana products within the city to promote local businesses, according to the ordinance.

“I think it is good for our customers to give them more options,” Kalla Peacock, the owner of the Alaskan Grown Cannabis, formerly Buds Below Zero. “Utqiaġvik is the only location in the state that I know of that didn’t allow the sales of edibles. We have a lot of Elders and other customers who don’t prefer or can’t use cannabis products that you would smoke traditionally so having an alternative for them I believe is beneficial for everyone.”

Previously, the municipality allowed the sale of marijuana pre-rolls, seeds and flowers and taxed 8% of those sales, said the City Mayor Asisaun Toovak. Residents were allowed to grow their own marijuana as well, she added. However, the city code prohibited the sale of cannabis edibles, candy, chocolates and infused products, she said.

Toovak explained that the city decided to make that distinction in 2018 because residents worried that marijuana products that resemble candy would be too easily accessible to children.

In recent years, residents and a marijuana establishment have been asking for a change in code, and the city started considering the advantages and disadvantages of those regulations, Toovak said.

During a town hall meeting earlier this spring, resident and former assembly president Forrest Deano Olemaun spoke against the new ordinance. He said he has been opposing not only marijuana products but cannabis overall, with the exception of medicinal use.


“They say they want to do it to gain funds to promote more healthy ways of living,” he said. “I question their rationale of trying to legalize marijuana to do more healthy things when, first of all, ‘you don’t permit it’ is the healthiest way to go.”

While the local sale of marijuana products was illegal in the city until May 23, residents were still purchasing them in Anchorage and bringing them home, Toovak said.

“The product is coming here,” she said. “Anchorage is getting that tax from our community members, ... making them criminals, if they’re buying it from Anchorage and they’re bringing it here when product is illegal.”

The new ordinance will allow residents to safely purchase those products locally, she said.

The city officials also hope to get additional income from the sale of marijuana products to be able to invest it in projects and services for residents, she said. Before the change, the 8% tax on retail marijuana sales brought around $280,000 to the city from July 2023, she said.

“We’ll benefit by getting the tax on the edibles and not making criminals out of our community members that are utilizing it,” said the City Mayor Asisaun Toovak.

In addition, the idea behind taxation is that it can also help curb consumption, Toovak said.

“If we continue to tax more into it, the hope is less use,” she said. “That’s the idea.”

The council decided on May 23 to amend the original 2018 ordinance and allow the sale and import of marijuana products. Manufacturing remains prohibited within the city, according to the ordinance.

Because the action only involved adjusting the existing ordinance, the city didn’t need to put the change to vote, Toovak explained.

The local cannabis businesses were immediately able to put marijuana products into their stores, Toovak said.

All marijuana products have to be properly labeled, clearly sealed and not exceed 10 milligrams per product.

Earlier this year, the city considered allowing alcohol sales on city premises, but the petition didn’t get enough signatures to move forward.


Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.