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Despite election, the debate continues in Fairbanks over legal marijuana

  • Author: Dermot Cole
    | Opinion
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 2, 2014

FAIRBANKS -- The election is finished, but the debate over legalized marijuana remains as contentious as ever.

About 20 local elected officials from the three governments in the Fairbanks area spent Tuesday night hearing arguments for and against allowing commercial marijuana establishments.

No legislators attended the session, an absence noted by Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins.

"I don't think any of us are sure what the state Legislature is going to do, how they're going to move into this," Hopkins said.

He said he plans to present a zoning ordinance to the borough assembly to address how marijuana establishments might be regulated on the local level, where they would be allowed and what standards would be set.

"I don't see a moratorium action coming forward, not by me," said Hopkins. "I don't think that's the right move."

About 100 people attended the session at the Pioneer Park civic center, organized by the borough and the cities of Fairbanks and North Pole.

Local mayors, assembly members and council members heard the same range of opinions about the use of marijuana that aired in debates across the state before voters adopted Ballot Measure 2 by a 53 percent majority Nov. 4.

While some argued that the initiative is a long-overdue end to prohibition, others called on the borough to use powers granted under the initiative for local governments to prohibit commercial marijuana establishments.

Longtime Fairbanksan Eric Muehling said it is reasonable to have zoning regulations. "Let's regulate it no differently than we do alcohol," he said.

Frank Oxman said the three local governments need to be in alignment with their rules to prevent chaos.

"I think you guys are all smart enough to put together a program that will be beneficial to answer what the public asked for," he said.

Some speakers said there are many people who want to get into the marijuana business that have the creativity to do it correctly and make a living.

Jeff Jessee, chief executive officer of the Alaska Mental Health Trust, said the initiative will not encourage small business. He said it keeps the sale of small amounts of marijuana a crime. The Legislature should amend the law to allow the sale of small amounts to prevent the development of an industry devoted to promoting marijuana use, he said.

"The irony of this proposition is it creates a large-scale government-regulated and taxed industry from which Alaskans must purchase their marijuana," he said.

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