Starting today, Alaskans can apply for state marijuana business licenses. While the first retail stores will not open until autumn, the state's fledgling legal marijuana industry has officially gotten off the ground.
But where do Alaska's cities and boroughs, which have the power to make their own laws regulating the industry, stand on commercial cannabis? By compiling information from city and borough managers, mayors and other public officials, a picture emerges of Alaska's cannabis laws at a local level.
In this map, a green dot stands for a community that has some laws regulating marijuana or no local laws at all; a yellow dot means there is a possible ban upcoming; a red dot means commercial marijuana has been banned.
Green: Local laws regulate marijuana, or there are no local laws at all
Cities and boroughs across the state are grappling with what additional laws, if any, to create for marijuana businesses.
Many small communities, from Nenana to Hoonah, are waiting to see how urban hubs like Anchorage and Fairbanks handle their industries before they take any major steps to regulate commercial marijuana.
"Our council has just been overwhelmed, and we don't know what to do," said Kodiak City Manager Aimée Kniaziowski.
Hoonah Mayor Kenneth Skaflestad considers the ability to wait an advantage of living in a small town. They get to "watch the bigger, more active communities get up and going through the trials," Skaflestad said.
Some smaller towns have basic laws in place – they've set fines for public consumption or defined the local governing authority, for example. Some, like Cordova and Yakutat, have banned the manufacturing of marijuana products with explosive and volatile gases.
See also: An updated timeline for cultivation and retail businesses
Then there are unique laws: Nome's only ordinance allows marijuana businesses to stay open longer during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race -- until 5 a.m., way past the normal closing time of 10 p.m. – and during a few other local events. Marijuana businesses can open early on Super Bowl Sunday and during the Bering Sea Open Golf Tournament, too.
Bethel voters placed a hefty 15 percent sales tax on marijuana – even though application processing is banned through July in the Southwestern Alaska hub community.
Even if a small community supports having marijuana businesses, it faces additional challenges. A state law creating a 500-foot buffer from schools and other areas eliminates nearly all potential real estate in some smaller towns – including Sitka, Petersburg and Kodiak.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it's the urban centers – the Municipality of Anchorage, Fairbanks North Star Borough and City and Borough of Juneau – that are furthest along in crafting regulations. Anchorage has created its own licensing process and has its own permit process. Home to nearly half the state's residents, Anchorage has the most local laws of any community.
In the Fairbanks borough, zoning regulations are in place, and the borough has begun accepting permit applications. "I think we're up to six or seven," said Community Planning Director Christine Nelson. (Fairbanks businesses still must go through the state licensing process before setting up shop.)
Juneau has its own zoning too, and is crafting a conditional use permit, said Jesse Kiehl, a member of Juneau's Marijuana Advisory Committee.
A few communities have already put sales taxes in place: Bethel, North Pole and the city of Fairbanks. Anchorage voters will decide whether to tax marijuana in April.
Yellow: Temporary bans or upcoming votes on bans
Some communities are putting the brakes on marijuana businesses for now, while others have pending votes on bans. Bethel won't process applications until July 26, after its six-month ban has expired.
Three boroughs are considering banning commercial marijuana: Matanuska-Susitna, Kodiak Island and Bristol Bay.
Should Matanuska-Susitna Borough voters opt out in October, the city of Houston will be the only locale in the borough to allow the cultivation, testing, manufacturing and sale of commercial marijuana. Talkeetna, Butte, Big Lake and Willow will all fall under the borough's ban.
In Bristol Bay, the ban would be for one year, according to Borough Manager John Fulton, who plans to introduce an ordinance to the local assembly on March 7. "It really needs to be thought out," Fulton said of the industry.
In Homer, the city council is weighing whether to put a proposed ban on a special election ballot on April 19, according to City Manager Katie Koester.
Red: Commercial marijuana banned
As of Feb. 24, commercial marijuana has been banned in five communities in Alaska: Soldotna, Wasilla, Palmer, Delta Junction and Unalaska. All bans were enacted by city councils, save in Palmer, where voters chose to ban commercial marijuana. In Metlakatla, the state's only federal Indian reservation, marijuana remains illegal, per federal law.
Local option law and the unorganized borough
Established villages, at this point, do not have the power to opt out of commercial marijuana due to the language of Alaska's voter initiative that legalized recreational marijuana, according to Alcoholic Beverage and Marijuana Control Office Director Cynthia Franklin. The Legislature must add that language to state law before a village can do so. A bill in the state Senate, House Bill 75, would give villages the power to opt out.
Laws for the unorganized borough are created by the Legislature. House Bill 75, in its current form, would automatically opt out the unorganized borough (excluding the cities). If passed, individual communities would be able to opt back in to allow for commercial marijuana.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing