State Lags Behind Municipalities Adapting to New Marijuana Law

On the left, Bruce Schulte of the CRCL at a press conference with Dr. Tim Hinterberger of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.
On the left, Bruce Schulte of the CRCL at a press conference with Dr. Tim Hinterberger of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

As of today it is no longer a crime to possess or transport less than an ounce of marijuana in the state of Alaska. However, the rule change is still a long way from the fully legal and regulated market that voters passed with Ballot Measure 2. And as state entities work to develop comprehensive new laws on a budding new commodity, municipalities are rushing to find shorter-term public safety solutions.

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Yesterday, Governor Bill Walker introduced legislation that would create a marijuana control board under the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development. The group will be in charge of designing regulations as the state’s permit structure takes shape in the year ahead. The board is similar to the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board, which oversees liquor licenses for the state. And a comprehensive framework for legalizing marijuana is proceeding steadily through the legislature.

“We’re pretty happy with Senate Bill 30 the way it is right now,” said Bruce Schulte, a spokesman for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, which is offering policy recommendations to law-makers on transitioning to a legal marijuana market.

Legalization advocates are using money from supporters and the Marijauna Policy Project to fund a “Consume Responsibly” campaign, featuring bus ads in Anchorage the next two weeks bearing the slogan, “With great marijuana laws comes great responsibility.” The message puts the burden of restraint on consumers, asking for a “good neighbor” approach.

The ABC Board met this morning for an emergency session that extended bans on consuming alcohol in public to marijuana. That is a step that some municipalities like Anchorage have already taken themselves.

“We have to do something, I think, to make sure that the public is safe,” said Paul Honeman of the Anchorage Assembly, which voted in a ban on public consumption that comes with a $100 fine similar to a parking ticket.

At a special session convened Tuesday, the Assembly unanimously passed another public safety measure on a process that extracts the active ingredient in cannabis for concentrated, highly potent byproducts. The measure is intended to maintain sanction over particular rendering processes that have caused dozens of house explosions in Colorado since legalization. Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew is working closely with the Assembly to develop reasonable enforcement policies, in part because he wants the Department to be ready for new developments before they become problems.

“Whether it’s the butane hash oil scenario or more advanced equipment, I can’t tell you that,” Mew told the Assembly. “But I do know we have actionable information about people who have ordered and received stuff that, I believe, would be illegal under the current ordinance.”

Critics say the measure is unnecessarily broad, and would be more effective with refined language. But the Assembly in Anchorage is taking the approach that it is better to do something than nothing, and that it can always repeal the rules once state measures are released later on.