Alaska Marijuana News

Mat-Su mayor wants vote on banning marijuana businesses

WASILLA -- The mayor of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough wants to put bans on commercial marijuana operations to a local vote, potentially opening a door to undo parts of Alaska's legalization law in the state's pot growing capital.

The proposed resolution goes before the Mat-Su Assembly on Tuesday night.

Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss is seeking Assembly approval of a resolution asking local voters if they support prohibitions on four sectors of commercial marijuana: retail stores, cultivation facilities, manufacturing facilities and testing facilities. If approved, the questions would be placed on the Oct. 6 ballot for borough residents outside the cities of Palmer, Wasilla and Houston.

"I want the growers to have the opportunity to woo another 5 percent of our voters over to their side," DeVilbiss said by phone from his Lazy Mountain farm Monday. "You know, it didn't pass out here so I don't feel like we have a mandate to instill it."

Statewide voters last November approved the legalization of recreational marijuana, including retail sales and commercial grow operations and manufacture. But voters in the Mat-Su -- widely known as a primary source of high-grade marijuana but also home to a conservative base -- narrowly voted against legalization despite pockets of support in Palmer, Sutton and Talkeetna.

Personal use of marijuana became legal in Alaska on Feb. 24, but the state Legislature is still hammering out the particulars on commercial grow operations, testing and sales. Rules are expected to take effect beginning in 2016.

Under state law, the mayor's resolution states, local governments can prohibit facilities involved in cultivation, product manufacturing and testing as well as retail establishments.


Anchorage Assembly member Amy Demboski proposed a preemptive ban on commercial marijuana in Anchorage late last year, but that ordinance was killed by a 9-2 vote after four hours of public testimony in December. The Kenai Peninsula Borough has also been debating banning commercial marijuana farms.

DeVilbiss said the initiative could inform future policy decisions by breaking down the larger legalization question into those four parts. He said he decided to put the resolution on the agenda after hearing from several people who want to craft a voter's initiative on commercial marijuana operations.

"I said, 'Well, this is something that we can do on the Assembly level a lot easier,'" he said. "But I'm doing it with enough time (that) it leaves (initiative supporters) time to do it if the Assembly doesn't support it."

The proposal is on Tuesday night's consent agenda, normally the place for low-interest or housekeeping items clumped together for a quick vote. The mayor expects the Assembly to pull it out of that category for debate before any vote.

At least one member is already speaking out against it.

Jim Sykes, who represents areas including Lazy Mountain, Butte and Sutton, called the resolution ill-advised and premature: The Legislature has yet to take any action on commercial operations and the mayor himself hasn't even finished appointing members of a new borough-level marijuana advisory committee, he said.

Sykes said the proposed ballot questions add nothing to the debate beyond what precinct-by-precinct voting results already show and could prove less informative, considering that a local election would draw substantially fewer voters than the statewide election did.

"If you really wanted to know an answer to get advice on what the borough should do you ask a bunch of questions," he said. "It's not just conceptual. It's options this would create; if your taxes were lowered because marijuana was legal so we could better fund our roads, schools, EMS -- that could be part of the question."

DeVilbiss last August joined 22 other members of the Alaska Conference of Mayors in voting to oppose the marijuana initiative. He said at the time legalization in the Mat-Su would help the thriving black market already in place here.

Speaking at a press conference in August, DeVilbiss and Palmer Mayor DeLena Johnson voiced concerns about public safety and costs.

Sykes said DeVilbiss didn't have Assembly direction to represent the borough on the issue. He also noted that he and borough attorney Nick Spiropoulos recently spoke with the attorney in a Colorado county who indicated that new taxes helped recoup any municipal costs and violent crime dropped.

DeVilbiss is running for re-election this year. Asked if the proposed resolution had anything to do with those plans, the mayor said he doesn't expect the resolution to help.

"Everyone that wants me to run and wants me to have another term tells me that this is political suicide," he said. "It's going to bring out probably an element that would be less inclined to vote for me."

Zaz Hollander

Zaz Hollander is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su and is currently an ADN local news editor and reporter. She covers breaking news, the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at