Alaska Marijuana News

Marijuana Control Board applicants vie for 5 open seats

More than 100 Alaskans are vying for a spot on the Marijuana Control Board, Alaska's new regulatory body that will craft the state's marijuana regulations, according to documents released by the state. Among the list of applicants are marijuana initiative supporters, business owners, a few people who spoke out against the initiative, and the attorney who represented the famous "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case.

The 132 applicants are hoping to fill one of five seats on the board. One member will come from the public safety sector; one from the public health sector; one from the marijuana industry; one person either from the general public or the marijuana industry; and one person will be chosen who lives in a rural area (defined as a community of 7,000 or less, off the road system, or on the road system with a population of 2,000 or less).

Gov. Bill Walker will appoint the board, which will then need to be approved by the Legislature.

"There was a tremendous amount of interest from very qualified Alaskans, and interviews are underway now. We are hopeful that appointments can be made by early July," wrote Katie Marquette, Walker's deputy press secretary.

The applicants come from a diverse range of locations and backgrounds. Marquette wrote that the response was greater for the Marijuana Control Board than for other seats on state boards.

"That could be because it's a brand-new board with five open seats, as opposed to other boards that have been around longer and have fewer open seats," Marquette wrote.

The list includes a number of active supporters of legalization. There's Tim Hinterberger, chairman of the initiative campaign; Bruce Schulte, spokesperson for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, as well as Frank Berardi and Leif Abel, both active with the coalition.

Then there are Alaskans who have indicated that they hope to start marijuana businesses: James Barrett in Juneau; Mystiek Lockery in Fairbanks; Howard "Cole" Hollister in Fairbanks. Rocky Burns, owner of the controversial marijuana delivery service Discreet Deliveries, has also applied.

Forty-one applicants hail from Anchorage; rural Alaska has far less representation. Mark Springer, a Bethel City Council member, is the sole applicant from the Southwest Alaska community. Brad Reich, former mayor of Kiana, is also on the list.

Attorney Douglas Mertz also applied. Mertz is a former assistant attorney general who represented Juneau-Douglas High School student Joe Frederick in the widely-publicized "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case that made it to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 and sparked debate over First Amendment rights.

James Brooks, assistant editor for the Juneau Empire, said he applied mostly to become more informed on the process. "It was semi-serious but I didn't honestly expect to get a call back," Brooks said.

"I'd be concerned if I was picked," Brooks said, as there are others he feels are more qualified.

Also on the list is Bernard Souphanavong, who owns Bernie's Bungalow Lounge in downtown Anchorage. Then there's former Alcoholic Beverage Control Board member Ethan Billings, who has owned multiple bars in Southeast Alaska and said Wednesday he is interested in and will probably be involved with the marijuana industry in some form.

Some applicants had publicly spoken out against the initiative to legalize marijuana before it was voted on in November.

Renee Schofield, CEO of Tongass Substance Screening, applied for one of the board positions. The company works with employer safety programs, including drug testing and breath alcohol screening, according to the company's website.

In October, Schofield wrote an opinion piece in the Ketchikan-based SitNews in which she stated that "you can't regulate marijuana like alcohol," and noted her reasons for "strong opposition" to the ballot measure.

Schofield could not be reached for comment Wednesday about her application to the board.

Kalie Klaysmat, executive director of the Alaska Associations of Chiefs of Police, also applied. The Chiefs of Police was vocal in its opposition to Ballot Measure 2. "I spoke for the chiefs," Klaysmat said Wednesday of her work leading into the November election. "I applied for myself."

"I have learned a lot about marijuana … I have great concerns (about) it and I think the board is really going to need to manage this carefully," Klaysmat said.

Board members will serve staggered three-year terms. Since Alaska's legal marijuana industry has yet to come into being, according to regulators, the initial appointments to the board for the marijuana industry seats will be people who will have experience through "lawful participation" or in an "academic or advocacy role."

ABC Board director Cynthia Franklin told Alaska Dispatch News that that could include people with marijuana industry experience from another state or people with experience in a different regulated industry who is well-educated in legal marijuana, either through seminars or workshops.

The board has until Nov. 24 to craft regulations, which will be rolled out in waves. The first round of regulations is up for public input now.

Check out the complete list of applicants.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case made it to the Alaska Supreme Court in 2007. It reached the U.S. Supreme Court that year.