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Mat-Su mayor issues veto on marijuana moratorium

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: September 30, 2016
  • Published May 16, 2016

PALMER -- The Matanuska-Susitna Borough mayor on Monday vetoed a moratorium on marijuana businesses designed to extend through a boroughwide vote on a commercial cannabis ban in October.

Mayor Vern Halter's veto is not yet in effect. The Borough Assembly, which meets Tuesday evening, can override it. An item is also on the agenda to "reconsider" the moratorium, which was sponsored by Assembly member Randall Kowalke. Kowalke represents Willow, which is also Halter's hometown.

The fate of the marijuana industry is being closely watched in Mat-Su, considered Alaska's reputed cannabis capital because of its cultivation history and close access to markets in Anchorage.

Halter, in a statement explaining his decision, said borough regulations on marijuana are still being considered and months from finalization. He also expressed his opposition to the borough regulating marijuana beyond gathering taxes.

Halter couldn't be reached for clarification Monday evening. A borough spokesperson said the mayor wouldn't be available to discuss the veto until Tuesday.

A citizens initiative on the Oct. 4 ballot asks voters if they want to block marijuana businesses in the borough outside the cities. It exempts commercial hemp.

The borough Assembly adopted the moratorium earlier this month after hearing lengthy testimony from both sides of the issue: Industry backers said they deserved a chance to show the public how they operated before the vote; industry opponents said the vote should happen first.

Most of the moratorium was set to expire Oct. 19, except for grow facilities, which expired Aug. 17.

Halter, in his statement, said the state should regulate marijuana, with the borough taxing marijuana sales but not adding codes specific to marijuana.

"We have no police power and our Code compliance division is overworked already. To add Codes on marijuana will be difficult for us to enforce," Halter wrote. "From the very beginning our overly large Borough Marijuana Committee has made the process cumbersome and confusing."

The borough is working on changes to code that would address various land-use aspects of the nascent industry, such as how to address marijuana facilities in residential areas.

A 17-member Marijuana Advisory Committee was appointed by former Mayor Larry DeVilbiss last year. The committee released draft potential land-use regulations in January, and the borough planning commission made recommendations that led to additional changes by borough planning staff.

The planning commission was holding a public hearing on amendments to marijuana facility permitting Monday. The marijuana committee will review regulatory changes on May 19.

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