At least one marijuana delivery service is openly selling pot in Southcentral Alaska, more than a month before the ballot initiative that legalized recreational marijuana use in the state officially goes into effect.
"Technically we are acting [rogue] … but look forward to being legal soon," reads the website of Discreet Deliveries, which offers to drop off up to an ounce of marijuana to paying customers in Anchorage and the Matanuska Valley.
Discreet Deliveries owner Rocky Burns, a 37-year-old former real estate agent from Wasilla, seems to be taking the risks in stride.
"If I was at all worried, I wouldn't have started," Burns said.
But state agencies on Monday warned that such a cavalier approach is dangerous.
"What he's doing is not legal," said Cynthia Franklin, director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which is overseeing implementation of the initiative. "He could be criminally prosecuted."
Anchorage Police Department Chief Mark Mew agreed.
"People who jump the gun on this issue do so at their own risk. We can never give people permission to break the law. The marijuana laws in Alaska have not yet changed. People who break the current laws are still subject to being prosecuted," Mew wrote in an email.
Recreational marijuana use will be legal Feb. 24, which Burns said is also his birthday. That day, people will be able to possess and transport up to an ounce of marijuana under the language of Ballot Measure 2, the initiative that legalized marijuana. But marijuana businesses won't legally be able to operate until 2016 -- after regulations governing commercial marijuana operations are in effect, and the state has issued licenses.
Burns isn't waiting for the regulations, though. He said he fears that "big business" will come into the state and push out would-be Alaska marijuana entrepreneurs. He wants Alaskans to establish their own strains and customer base before outsiders have a chance to make their mark.
"A little bit of civil disobedience will make a point," Burns said.
Though he's acting outside the word of the law, Burns believes his company is operating in the spirit of the initiative. The company sells marijuana discreetly, he claims, packaging the product in Mylar bags that hide the contents. He said only adults 21 and older can buy his product, which can be delivered to a home or a business.
Most deliveries are for a quarter-ounce of marijuana, Burns said; roughly 25 percent of orders are for an ounce. On Fridays, the busiest day, the company makes upward of a dozen deliveries, Burns said.
Burns said he won't deliver more than an ounce to a customer, citing a desire to stay within the limits laid out in the initiative. Prices range from $50 for 3.5 grams to $320 for an ounce of marijuana, depending on the strain, according to the company's website. The service also offers edible marijuana products, though they were sold out Monday.
Marijuana delivery services are not a novel idea; the business model became popular in Washington after the passage of that state's initiative. But in early December, the city of Seattle announced plans to shut down these services, the Seattle Times reported.
A representative of a second Anchorage business that advertises as a medical marijuana delivery service, Alaska Puffin Delivery, declined to comment for this story.
Burns isn't worried about the apparent risks of publicizing a marijuana business before it's legal, and without a license. He believes that law enforcement wanted the initiative to pass, and that any use of state resources toward halting a "victimless crime" would be a waste, he said.
If law enforcement takes issue with his operation, "just contact me," Burns said.
Even after the initiative goes into effect, Burns will be operating without a business license and could still be subject to criminal penalties, said Franklin, the ABC Board director.
She said Burns also risks perpetuating a stereotype that marijuana entrepreneurs won't follow state regulations. "He's fulfilling the fears of the anti-marijuana crowd," Franklin said.
Some in favor of legalization also spoke out against jumping the gun on the marijuana business before regulations have gone into effect.
"We do not endorse or condone any form of uncivil behavior, regardless of its tenuous legality, if it reflects negatively on the legalized marijuana movement or if it encroaches on other people's peace or freedom in the name of legalized marijuana," Bruce Schulte, spokesperson for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, wrote in an email.
Businesses that start operating before regulations are in place may also be putting a damper on their future aspirations, Franklin said. Business owners who break the law now may not be ideal candidates for receiving a license in the future, she said.
"Anyone who thinks it would be cute to go ahead and open their business … might have an ugly surprise," Franklin said.