Alaska Marijuana Control Board could finally decide fate of on-site consumption this week

Ever since recreational marijuana became legal in Alaska, the industry’s supporters have pushed for regulations that would allow people to use marijuana in specially designated businesses to get around the state’s blanket ban on the public consumption of marijuana.

Advocates have pointed to the state’s big tourism numbers as reason to set up places where people can light up as smoking in most hotels, cruise ships, public parks and sidewalks all can land you with a ticket. The Anchorage Assembly passed a resolution supporting on-site consumption in 2017 in hopes of getting pot smokers off the downtown streets.

The Alaska Marijuana Control Board, for its part, has punted on the issue multiple times whether it be over issues of legal authority, resistance from some board members and difficulties drafting the actual regulations.

But it appears that on-site consumption will finally be taken up in earnest at the board’s meeting this week. The board has scheduled public testimony on the measure for Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the State of Alaska Crime Lab, and it will take up the regulations at its regular Thursday meeting at 9 a.m. (but it could stretch into its Friday meeting, too).

Mark Springer, the chair of the Alaska Marijuana Control Board, said the public hearing is an unusual move for the board, but said it was merited with the amount of attention being paid to the issue.

“We’ve gotten plenty of written comment, we’ve got years of written comment on on-site consumption and we’ve never had a public hearing and given the interest on the issue on both sides, the board thought it was only fair that we had an opportunity for public testimony,” he said.

At its Thursday and Friday meetings, the board could: Decide to adopt the proposed regulations as is; amend the regulations, and if the amendments are substantive send the regulations for a second round of public comments; send the regulations back to staff for revision; or close the project without taking action.

The regulations were put out for public comment at the board’s August 2018 meeting and the written public comment period closed on Nov. 1, 2018.

The regulations would essentially allow businesses to apply for an additional on-site consumption endorsement, but it’s not as simple as allowing people to smoke in an existing retail store. The regulations would require the onsite consumption facility to be separate from the retail store with its own ventilation system or potentially outdoors as long as the smell and sight are shielded from the public.

Local governments would be allowed to opt out of onsite consumption. Marijuana concentrates would be outright banned at the onsite consumption locations and there would be limits placed on the amount of marijuana people could buy for onsite use (no bringing in marijuana from outside).

The proposed regulations are the culmination of a lot of compromise between the board members and the staff.

“I don’t personally see any substantive changes being proposed,” Springer said. “That doesn’t mean I’m predicting it’s going to either way.”

Uncertainty

Even if the Marijuana Control Board votes to approve the regulations, it’s not a sure thing that they’ll go into effect. The regulations would have to get the signature of Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer to be adopted, and the new administration has not said much about its plans for marijuana.

However, Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum penned an editorial with former DHSS commissioner/acting Chief Medical Officer Jay Butler entitled “Alaska should not allow onsite marijuana consumption.”

They argue it shouldn’t be allowed because it could contribute to an increased rate of drinking under the influence, pointing to an increase in car crashes on every stoners’ favorite holiday of 420 (April 20th to everyone else).

The editorial glancingly mentions alcohol (which, probably, also has some kind of impact on driving under the influence but I’m not a doctor), but seemingly waives off concerns.

“Like alcohol, marijuana can be dangerous and addictive, but it can also be used responsibly, without harm to others, by many non-pregnant adults,” they write.

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