Alaska Marijuana News

Anchorage Assembly sets buffer zones for pot businesses, bans in-store consumption

When pot businesses can legally open in Anchorage later this year, they'll have to be at least 500 feet from schools in most parts of the city, the Anchorage Assembly decided Tuesday night.

The Assembly also narrowly voted against a proposal to allow on-site consumption in retail stores, at least for now. That question was referred back to the Assembly's committee on marijuana regulation. Assembly members said the city should wait for the outcome of still-evolving state regulations before adopting local rules on marijuana bars or cafes -- but left undisturbed laws for private social clubs, where customers can bring their own pot to consume.

With the state two weeks away from accepting the first applications for marijuana businesses, the Assembly's action on Tuesday determined what the industry will look like in Anchorage. More stringent rules were adopted for Chugiak and Eagle River than the rest of Anchorage, which Assemblywoman Amy Demboski said she heard "loud and clear" that her constituents wanted.

Here's a summary of key regulations approved by the Assembly during Tuesday night's meeting.

Pot businesses will need to be at least 500 feet from schools, playgrounds and athletic fields, day care centers and homeless shelters.

In Chugiak and Eagle River, a 1,000-foot distance will be required between pot businesses and dedicated parks and residential property. The Assembly also barred pot businesses from larger business districts in Chugiak and Eagle River.

Distances will be measured "as the crow flies" -- from the edge of a marijuana business to the lot line of a protected area -- instead of by pedestrian routes.


Prospective business owners must "meaningfully engage" with the neighborhood to "mitigate concerns such as odor, parking and security."

In addition to a state license, entrepreneurs will need a local license and a special land use permit to do business in Anchorage. After making amendments, the Assembly voted 10-1 on both sets of regulations, with only Assemblyman Paul Honeman opposing.

After voters legalized commercial marijuana in November 2014, city officials began more than a year of research. That included a trip last January to Boulder, Colorado. Some elements of the new Anchorage rules are modeled after laws in Colorado.

In setting a 500-foot separation distance from schools, the Assembly stepped back from the city legal department's recommendation of a 1,000-foot buffer zone, which was based on federal drug-free laws. Assemblymen Patrick Flynn and Bill Evans argued the legal industry would otherwise have too much trouble finding a foothold in the city.

But in the hallway outside the Assembly chambers after Tuesday's vote, several marijuana entrepreneurs were visibly upset by the more stringent "as the crow flies" measuring requirement. There was also disappointment about the tightening of restrictions in Chugiak and Eagle River, where much of the city's undeveloped land is located.

Sharolyn Wyeth was hoping to open a marijuana dispensary on Gambell Street in Fairview. She said the business location she'd identified is 2,000 feet from one of the protected areas, if measuring by a pedestrian route -- but only 384 feet "as the crow flies." She said the pedestrian route includes a four-lane road and two fences.

Tina Smith said her husband was looking on Google Maps during the meeting to see if the "as the crow flies" measuring method would disrupt their plans to open a retail business in Midtown. She said it looked very close, and she was planning to head out to the property that night with a rangefinder.

After the meeting, Demboski, who co-sponsored the amendment, said she wanted to create an "unambiguous standard" for measuring distances from schools and other protected uses. Chris Schutte, the city's economic and community development director, said it's much easier for the city to map, though he noted it may not make it easier for businesses to find property.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.