Alaska’s on track to be the first state to allow onsite marijuana use after board approves regs

ANCHORAGE—Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board today approved regulations permitting the public use of marijuana in approved retailers, putting the 49th State on track to be the first to have statewide rules allowing the onsite consumption of marijuana.

The 3-2 vote on Thursday marks what’s nearly the end of a years-long effort to allow onsite consumption since the tourist-heavy state legalized commercial marijuana by popular vote in 2014. The regulations now go to legal review and will require the signature of Alaska’s Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer before becoming official.

Public testimony has been markedly split on the issue with many industry supporters calling for a safe and organized way for people to use marijuana in public (it’s currently barred from most hotels, public parks, cruise ships and sidewalks). Opponents raised concerns from multiple directions, including public safety and worries about smoking and driving; public health with others concerned about second-hand smoke; and people who felt it was well beyond the scope of the 2014 voter initiative.

The Marijuana Control Board’s two industry members—Brandon Emmett and Nicholas Miller—were joined by public safety member Sitka Police Chief Jeff Ankerfelt in voting in favor of the regulations. Ankerfelt, who’s called the war on weed a “waste of time,” said the regulations, which put many requirements on the business owners to monitor patrons’ use of marijuana, is better for the public than having people “sneaking around.”

“With respect for public safety, from my perspective, providing a safe place with adequate oversight, that’s properly regulated, with business practices that are very transparent, I think they’re contributing to public safety,” he said. “I don’t foresee any public safety issues related to this. … I think this is a good framework.”

Once the regulations go into effect, marijuana retailers would be able to apply for an additional endorsement that would allow them to have special onsite consumption areas where people could smoke marijuana flower or consume edibles that were purchased at the store (no marijuana concentrates). Quantities would be limited for both, but patrons could take home whatever’s left over.

There’s also quite a bit of regulations for the onsite consumption areas. Indoor consumption areas are only allowed in retail shops that are contained in freestanding buildings and must have their own ventilation and sealed doors, as well as a smoke-free area for employees to be able to monitor the patrons (employees are specifically prohibited from partaking in the activities). Outdoor areas would be permitted as long as they’re shielded from sight and smell from the neighbors.

Local communities can also ban onsite consumption altogether. Fairbanks and North Pole have bans on the books, and so does Juneau (though they’re considering changing their laws to be in accordance with the state’s smoke-free workplace legislation passed earlier this year). The Anchorage Assembly, however, approved a resolution supporting onsite consumption in an effort to combat public pot use in the downtown area.

Still, rural member Mark Springer and public health member Loren Jones both voted against the measure. Jones had worked on the regulations with Emmett, but said he was still not satisfied with the rules.

“We’re a long ways from being able to do this and I believe we’re a long way from adequate regulations,” he said.

Springer said he gave special weight to testimony opposing the regulations on public health and public safety grounds.

Denver has already passed regulations allowing onsite consumption of marijuana, but many have found the regulations’ requirements prohibit setting up shop in most areas, prompting the Denver Post to declare it “mostly a bust.” Alaska, with its huge open spaces and budding 420-friendly lodge business, could be poised to take advantage of onsite consumption rules.

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