WASILLA -- Wasilla's bid to prohibit marijuana businesses inside city limits took a step forward Monday night.
The city council voted to set an amendment to Wasilla's marijuana regulations for public hearing on Jan. 25. The amendment would ban retail storefronts and commercial cultivation of marijuana in Wasilla. The city already bans marijuana clubs and manufacturing edibles for sale or commercial use.
If the measure is implemented, Wasilla will join Palmer in banning commercial marijuana businesses. Palmer voters approved such a ban last year. Selling and growing marijuana is still legal in Houston and the rest of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, though Valley voters will get the chance to decide on a boroughwide ban this fall.
The state's voters in November 2014 approved Ballot Measure 2, legalizing recreational marijuana in Alaska. Licenses allowing for the sale of cannabis products to adults are expected to be issued beginning in May.
Wasilla officials who back the proposed regulations point out that city residents voted against legalization by about 450 votes.
But critics say a retail ban will fuel Wasilla's already thriving black market, deprive local officials of control over a new industry that could draw tourists and cut out a new source of future taxes and jobs.
Sara Williams, an industry advocate who chairs the borough's 17-member marijuana advisory committee, told the council Monday that the business she plans to open is expected to generate 10 jobs and a little over $100,000 in annual taxes.
"I know that could fund another salary for a police officer here in Wasilla," said Williams, CEO of a business called Midnight Greenery.
It's already as easy to buy pot as it is to order pizza in Wasilla, longtime resident Keith Searles told the council.
Searles said he lives in Wasilla and drives to his father's home just outside city limits on Wasilla-Fishhook Road. His father suffers from Alzheimer's disease, Searles told the group. Some research indicates that cannabis can help treat the degenerative cognitive condition.
"It would be nice if I could stop at a store on my way to see him rather than having to resort to buying substandard medicine from criminals on the black market," he said.