The Marijuana Control Board voted to allow consumption of marijuana at retail stores, which, if approved by Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, would make Alaska the first state to permit a regulated area for marijuana consumption outside of a person's home or other private spaces.
The change allows for people to buy marijuana at a retail store and consume it in a designated area on the premises.
The board voted 3-2 in favor of the amendment, with Loren Jones, public health board member, and Peter Mlynarik, the public safety board member, dissenting.
The regulations will go to the Department of Law for a formal review before heading to Mallott's desk.
The amendment functions as a placeholder; specifics as to what these establishments will look like will be decided at a later date, director Cynthia Franklin said.
Local laws banning indoor smoking still apply.
The vote represents a major shift from the board's former policy position, and comes after heated public debate surrounding sanctioning spaces for marijuana use.
Marijuana social clubs, however, where someone brings their own marijuana products to consume, are still considered illegal, the board said.
In Alaska, several social clubs focused on marijuana consumption opened after legalization, in response to the question of where one might go to consume marijuana. But the clubs were deemed to fall under the definition of a public place, and since public consumption is illegal, so were the clubs, the state argued. The clubs maintained they were acting legally.
Then in August, the Marijuana Control Board rolled out proposed regulations that would explicitly ban the clubs. The decision was met with a wave of negative public comment, including a brief demonstration by social club supporters during the board meeting.
The board had argued it didn't have the power to create an additional license type, as only four license types (retail, cultivation, manufacturing and testing facilities) were specified under Alaska's legalization initiative.
The proposed amendment sidesteps the argument by creating a space to consume marijuana under the auspices of a retail license. It would also exclude the retailers from the definition of a public space.
With the passage of the vote, Alaska is bucking a trend that has so far held steady in other states that have legalized recreational marijuana, where there are no state-sanctioned places to consume marijuana.
In Washington and Colorado, public consumption is illegal. In July, though, legislation was passed in Washington that explicitly banned clubs.
In Colorado, local governments are taking a crack at rules that would allow for clubs. The state doesn't monitor or license spaces for consumption, wrote Ro Silva, acting communications director for the Colorado Department of Revenue.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, social clubs are neither expressly permitted nor banned, said Mark Pettinger, spokesman for the recreational marijuana program with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, but public consumption is likewise banned.