In April, voters in Anchorage will be asked if Anchorage should become one of the first cities in the United States to allow “pot bars” with public consumption and smoking of marijuana. We believe that this is a very bad idea. Here’s why.
First, Anchorage currently has a strong law to protect employees and the public from secondhand smoke exposure in public areas, including bars and restaurants. In 2007, more than 72% of Anchorage voters supported this law. In 2013, when marijuana legalization was on the horizon, it was strengthened to treat marijuana secondhand smoke the same as tobacco smoke. The 2020 pot bar proposal would be the first significant weakening of this law. You will read on your ballot that “on-site consumption areas” in marijuana shops must be separated and ventilated presumably to protect workers and neighboring businesses. What you won’t read is that separation and ventilation do not protect non-users from exposure to the fine and ultra-fine particles in marijuana secondhand smoke that settle deep in the lungs and carry long-term health risks. If one special interest is granted an exemption, it could lead the Anchorage Assembly to grant exemptions or exceptions for other special interests. We should be going forward, not backward, in protecting Alaska workers from secondhand smoke.
Second, allowing pot bars will increase the number of impaired drivers on our roads. We have worked hard over decades to increase public awareness of the dangers of impaired driving, including encouraging designated drivers and improving training for servers to identify patrons who have had too much alcohol and should not drive. But we simply do not have that experience or training for servers to identify marijuana impairment. This pot bar proposal makes our roads and our city more dangerous. It will lead to more accidents, more injuries and more deaths. We have enough problems with public safety without adding more.
Third, we should not be one of the first cities to allow pot bars. We do not need to be in a hurry. Because Alaska was not the first state to legalize marijuana, we were able to learn from and avoid the mistakes made by Colorado and other states. Anchorage currently has 45 retail marijuana shops, with another 20 pending approval by the Anchorage Assembly. We are just now assessing the impacts of commercial cultivation, manufacture and sale of marijuana on our communities and neighborhoods. We should, no pun intended, take a deep breath.
For these reasons, many of us, even those who have long supported legalizing marijuana, do not support pot bars in Anchorage now. We urge you to join us in voting no this April on Proposition 11.
Eric Croft served in the Alaska House of Representatives, Anchorage Assembly and School Board, and is a candidate for mayor in 2021. Dick Traini served on the Anchorage Assembly for longer than any other person in Anchorage history. Paul Honeman served in the Anchorage Police Department and later on the Anchorage Assembly.
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