Alaska Marijuana News

Unalaska set to ban commercial marijuana sales

By a narrow 4-3 vote, with Mayor Shirley Marquardt breaking the tie, the Unalaska City Council last week took its first step towards banning local sales and commercial growing, testing, and manufacturing of marijuana products.

A local activist promised to put the issue on the ballot in the fall local election, and to oppose officials supporting a ban. Three seats are up for election this year -- two on the council now held by Roger Rowland and David Gregory, plus the mayor's.

"Opt out is a cop-out on the voters," said Jerry Swihart, a city worker, who said local residents voted heavily in favor of legalization in 2014.

But the mayor said the statewide ballot question, while legalizing personal possession, gave decision-making power on commercialization to the council. "Members of the public do not have that responsibility," Marquardt said.

Council members Frank Kelty, Rowland, Zoya Johnson and Marquardt voted to ban commercialization, while Gregory, Yudelka Leclere and Alejandro "Bong" Tungul supported locally regulated pot sales.

The new ordinance still requires another vote for passage, which is set for the Feb. 9 council meeting.

Gregory said the council will lose the ability to regulate marijuana businesses, if the council's ban is later overturned by voters. "I want to be involved in regulating marijuana," he said. Presently, pot is sold illegally, without quality control measures, and "you don't know what you're going to get if you go to the black market," he said.


Opposition to allowing commercial pot came from top officials of two major local organizations, the Unalaska City School District, and the Unalaska Christian Fellowship.

Superintendent John Conwell opposed commercialization, saying it threatens the town's stature as an "idyllic," or a picturesque and pleasant community. School business manager Holly Holman said it could make the town a less desirable place to raise children.

And Kelty, a school board member who also sits on the council, voted for the ban, though he said he agonized over the decision and sometimes thought pot sales should be allowed locally. "I really struggled with this," said Kelty, a former fish plant manager, who worried about the effects of a marijuana store a short distance from a fish processing plant which drug tests employees.

But since the last time the council voted on the issue, in a 5-1 vote in 2014, advising local voters to deny legalization, council marijuana support has tripled.

Unalaska Christian Fellowship pastor, the Rev. Ron Williams, linked long-term marijuana use to reduced intelligence quotients, saying it cut IQ by about 6 percent. Other UCF officials were also opposed at an earlier meeting, including the Rev. John Honan and Coe Whittern, an elder at the church.

Council member Rowland -- a founding member of the Aleutian Bible Church -- also strongly opposed allowing commercial sales.

Member Tungul reacted angrily to the vote against locally regulated sales, saying after the meeting that "it doesn't make any sense." The black market, he said, exposes youth to far more dangerous drugs.

This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished here with permission.