Politics

Dunleavy names state attorney as Alaska’s top alcohol and marijuana regulator

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has named Joan Wilson to be the head of the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office.

For the past four years, Wilson has been AMCO’s attorney, advising both the agency and the state’s alcohol and marijuana boards on a variety of legal issues.

Wilson will replace the current director, Glen Klinkhart, who is leaving the agency for a position with the Alaska Department of Revenue. She will be AMCO’s third director since 2019 and its fifth since Alaska legalized recreational marijuana consumption in 2014. (The latter figure includes an interim director who served for six months.)

When she starts her new job in May, Wilson will arrive at a significant time for the agency. The Alaska Legislature is debating a major overhaul of the state’s alcohol laws, and if that bill becomes law — it has already passed the state Senate — it would be up to Wilson to implement and enforce the new rules.

Because she remains a staff attorney, she declined to be interviewed about how she would address the new rules and issues that have afflicted AMCO, including staff turnover and an at-times tumultuous relationship with licensees.

She said she would be able to speak more freely once she takes her new position.

Leaders of the alcohol and marijuana industries praised the appointment.

“I’m excited,” said Lacy Wilcox, president of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, the state’s leading trade group for the cannabis industry.

“There’s not a training moment that has to happen to get someone up to speed; she’s as up to speed as anybody,” Wilcox said.

Wilson, born in Chicago, moved to Alaska in 1986 and spent much of her legal career in health care law. After joining the Alaska Department of Law, she worked as a prosecutor before becoming AMCO’s lead attorney. She also holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing and released her first book in 2021.

Sarah Oates, president and CEO of Alaska CHARR, the state’s leading alcohol industry organization, also praised Wilson and said that if the Legislature passes the alcohol-reform law, she is an ideal leader.

“I think that it would be hard to find another candidate who would be better suited to lead the agency throughout the development and implementation of corresponding regulation projects and of the changes in statute,” Oates said.

Wilcox said she has received some messages expressing concerns about Wilson’s testimony against mandatory COVID-19 masking in the Municipality of Anchorage. That testimony took place away from her job at the state.

Wilcox said she doesn’t believe it is significant.

“She’s not out there Reinbolding,” Wilcox said, referring to the strong opposition of state Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, to mandatory vaccination and masking.

Wilson is scheduled to begin her new job May 8.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.

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