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Wasilla pulls back from tough new marijuana laws

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published March 24, 2015

WASILLA -- The "Smoothie Lady" can celebrate: Some of Alaska's strictest municipal regulations on marijuana got rolled back Monday night in light of concerns that they could violate state law.

The Wasilla City Council voted 4-2 to remove a local prohibition on cooking marijuana edibles -- which includes everything from cannabis butter to brownies to smoothies -- in a home kitchen within city limits.

The council also removed a 2-ounce limit on the amount of pot that can legally be carried in one vehicle, a prohibition more rigorous than the 1-ounce per person, six-plant limit in state law.

Medical marijuana cardholder Kathy Smith told the council she eases the neuropathy from a brain cyst by throwing raw marijuana into her blender along with whatever fruit she has handy.

Before the vote, the self-proclaimed "Smoothie Lady" urged a removal of the manufacturing ban.

"It makes me feel like I'm ... a criminal in my own home because I'm making myself a smoothie," she said.

The council did vote to ban manufacture for sale or commercial use, as well as make extracts or concentrates using a "volatile or explosive gas" -- a method that can lead to explosions.

The changes were proposed to remove sections believed to be in conflict with state law or the Alaska Constitution, said Brandon Wall, the council member who proposed the revisions, along with Colleen Sullivan-Leonard.

"What somebody does in the privacy of their own home, we don't care as long as they're not hurting anybody," Wall said, describing his stance on the manufacturing change.

Council member Gretchen O'Barr said she heard from numerous medical marijuana users concerned that the city's regulations were overly harsh and blocked their self-treatment.

O'Barr said she supported removing the restriction on home-cooked edibles and "it's kind of silly" that Alaska's law allows for medical marijuana but doesn't provide for dispensaries.

She added, however, that she is not in favor of "large manufacturing" marijuana operations coming to Wasilla. "I want manufacturing, but not this kind."

Alaskans in November voted to legalize recreational marijuana, though residents of Wasilla narrowly rejected the initiative. Lawmakers have yet to enact retail and commercial regulations.

Wasilla voted in new regulations proposed by council member Stu Graham at a meeting in late February. Graham on Monday called the initiative process "so flawed it's almost unworkable."

But the day after Wasilla enacted its law, Wall said, he heard from a state legislator and her staff in Juneau that the home manufacture provision apparently violated constitutional protections against vetoing an initiative within two years of its effective date.

Graham, participating by phone Monday, said the "constitution provides for maximum local control" but there's not a lot of good guidance when it comes to initiatives.

Wasilla's law still includes tough provisions, including one that makes it illegal to smoke pot if it disturbs the neighbors.

Even the city's police chief, Gene Belden, told the council and a small audience Monday that his officers don't plan to do more than seize marijuana and write a report -- and even then, only if they happen to find amounts or types that appear to violate local law. Belden said the Palmer district attorney on Monday afternoon explained how he'll be handling potential marijuana offenses: without arrests or prosecution until the state clarifies its laws.

"As far as going into houses and stuff of that nature, we don't do that," he said. "If we go in on another call and find some, then we're going to snip and write a report."

The council on Monday voted down proposals to exempt caregivers and alternate caregivers for medical marijuana users from manufacture limits after the city attorney advised them that "alternate caregiver" was a wide-open category without much legal definition.

Sullivan-Leonard pointed out that Alaska already has a medical marijuana law in place.

Other proposed changes that failed Monday night: a sunset clause that would have repealed the city regulations in November and a provision allowing people "currently licensed by the state of Alaska to transport marijuana in greater quantities" than state law now allows.

City attorney Richard Payne said the manufacturing limits would be "problematic on enforcement" but so would the license proposal for transport, since there's no such provision in state law yet.

After the council spent some time debating and deleting various provisions, Graham suggested they start from scratch.

"It doesn't look anything like what it started off as," he said.

But Wall said the process worked just as he hoped it would.

"It was better to have a whole lot of ideas in here and trim what we don't like instead of inventing something at the table," he said.

Graham and Clark Buswell voted against the new marijuana ordinance. David Wilson, O'Barr, Sullivan-Leonard and Wall voted in favor.

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