Alaska News

Mat-Su Assembly approves marijuana business moratorium until borough vote

PALMER -- The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly late Tuesday approved a temporary moratorium on all commercial cannabis operations.

The moratorium reflects the Assembly's desire to wait until local voters in early October decide a borough-wide ban that includes everything but industrial hemp.

The Assembly unanimously put on hold any applications for marijuana businesses including cultivation, testing, manufacture and retail sales through Oct. 19. But they approved a sunset clause of Aug. 17 for cultivation.

The rest of the moratorium extends through mid-October, until local elections are certified.

Alaska voters legalized recreational marijuana use in 2014, but municipalities have the right to opt out. The Valley, known as the state's cannabis capital for a long growing tradition and famous strains, is already home to several opt-outs: The cities of Wasilla and Palmer separately decided not to allow most commercial marijuana operations.

The city of Houston, however, has developed regulations governing cannabis businesses as a way to drum up local revenues.

The Mat-Su Assembly for months has heard from both sides on the issue: marijuana entrepreneurs and medical marijuana users urging them to let the industry start up before the vote, and cannabis critics who say they don't want children to get access and oppose any new legal substances.

A 17-member committee nominated by former Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss -- a backer of the boroughwide ban and the moratorium -- developed recommendations for regulations, but the Assembly sent them back to the planning commission for additional work.

New regulations could be finished by June, planners say.

Randall Kowalke, who represents Willow on the Assembly, sponsored the ban and said he did so over problems regulating commercial businesses in residential neighborhoods.

Kowalke said he's concerned about one friend trying to start a cannabis business but getting hung up by regulation wording on proximity to parks, and another suffering from cancer who uses marijuana medicinally but is struggling to obtain it.

Still, he said during the meeting, the moratorium isn't about a desire to override the government or voters.

"This is about me wanting a solid plan to go forward," Kowalke said. "Can you imagine the hell we're going to have if we just hurry up and go forward with this?"

Zaz Hollander

Longtime ADN reporter Zaz Hollander is based in the Mat-Su and is currently focused on coverage of the coronavirus in Alaska. She also covers the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at zhollander@adn.com.

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