Anchorage Assembly Bans Marijuana From Public Use

The Anchorage Assembly voted 11-to-0 last night  to ban public consumption of marijuana. It’s a big first step as both the city and state try to regulate marijuana ahead of decriminalization next month.

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Many of those who testified before the Assembly accused the body of violating the will of the voters by trying to ban marijuana in Anchorage. But that is not what the new ordinance does. Instead, it gives the Anchorage Police Department and law-makers the first in a series of instructions about how to proceed as marijuana goes from illegal to legal on February 24th. The new rules treat marijuana almost identically to alcohol: no lighting up on the sidewalk, no driving under the influence, no consuming if you’re under 21.

The measure creates a civil citation for consuming in public, bringing with it a $100 ticket, but no jail time or criminal record. Mark Mew is chief of the Anchorage Police Department, and believes that while the bill is imperfect, the municipality would send the wrong signal if it took no action on the matter until the Legislature finished a totally comprehensive bill later on.

“But by that time, everybody’s gone hog-wild,” Mew explained, “and we’ll never be able to contain it back to where it is.”

The very big missing piece in Alaska’s decriminalization process right now is regulating who can grow, process, and sell marijuana products.

Until local and state officials develop rules for dispensing, there’s still no technically legal way to obtain recreational marijuana. That also means that even after February 24th, businesses like bars are not allowed to let patrons use pot in their establishments. For now, a private business counts as public when it comes to marijuana.

Assembly member Bill Starr added an amendment to the measure bringing it back before the body a year from now to re-assess whether or not the law is working.

As municipalities around the state weigh their local options, a joint Judiciary committee in Juneau is hammering out a bill of their own, SB-30. And the process is no less complicated.