Gov. Bill Walker is reviewing whether the state can extend its timeline for crafting marijuana regulations, spokesperson Grace Jang said Friday.
Extending the deadline could aid in crafting better regulations, Jang said. But marijuana industry advocates fear the delay could negatively influence the Legislature, which can repeal the initiative legalizing recreational marijuana two years after its effective date.
"The initiative creates a new industry that will require regulatory infrastructure that Alaska has to create from scratch and within a very short period of time. It's no easy task," Jang said.
Walker is "exploring whether the timeline can be slightly extended without violating the intent of the act," Jang said, to create the "best possible regulations from the beginning."
Recreational marijuana will become legal Feb. 24. On that day, Alaskans can legally possess and transport up to 1 ounce of marijuana, or be in possession of six plants, three of which can be mature. That won't change regardless of whether the regulatory process is extended.
Feb. 24 also marks the first day of the state's timeline to craft regulations. By November 2015, nine months later, the state is supposed to have safety and health, security, advertising and numerous other regulations surrounding marijuana businesses complete. As laid out in the initiative, the state will then begin accepting business applications in February 2016 and begin issuing business licenses no later than May 2016.
"The timelines that are set out … are tight. Very tight," said Alcoholic Beverage Control Board director Cynthia Franklin. The ABC Board will be in charge of crafting the regulations unless the Legislature creates a marijuana control board.
"The question on everyone's mind is … what happens if you can't get it done in that timeframe?" Franklin said.
An extension of the timeline would likely come as an amendment from the Legislature, Franklin said. The question is whether extending the timeline would constitute a change of the voter initiative. If it did, the amendment could be challenged in court.
Franklin explained that the tight timeline laid out by Ballot Measure 2 was "very intentional."
The Legislature can repeal the initiative in February 2017. If the state's regulatory process were delayed long enough that no business licenses were issued by that point, repealing the ballot measure would be easier, Franklin said.
Jang said "that's not the governor's intent at all" in considering an extension of the regulatory process.
Walker, an opponent of the initiative, is "committed to upholding the will of the people," Jang wrote.
Bruce Schulte, spokesperson for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation -- an association formed to influence the regulatory process -- agreed that a repeal by the Legislature would be more difficult after investments were made in the industry. A larger issue, Schulte said, is demonstrating that the industry can function responsibly.
"If this is done right, then the Legislature will have no reason to repeal it. But we can't demonstrate that unless we have some period of time" to set up the businesses, Schulte said.