Marijuana Regulators Run Low on Time and Money

Cannabis Plant. (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Cannabis Plant. (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The group setting up Alaska’s rules for commercial marijuana is on pace to finish regulations by a November 24th deadline. But just barely.

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The Marijuana Control Board is running out of time and money as it builds the framework for legal sales.

The board’s five members spent two full days discussing line after line of new marijuana rules with state regulators, lawyers, and members of the public. It is not glamorous work developing what could be described as the nitty-gritty particulars of industry regulation. The second day–all eight hours–was dedicated to just one topic area.

“And that was basically licensing and fees,” said Bruce Schulte, chair of the Marijuana Control Board, and one of the two appointees representing industry concerns. “It’s all the process and parameters around the licensing and renewals.”

Schulte concedes that the Board’s schedule of holding public meetings that share chunks of new draft rules, then switching over to re-drafting with public input is not particularly straightforward, though so far it has been expedient.

“It’s very confusing,” Schulte said, “I have to make notes myself.”

And it’s not just complex–it’s time consuming. The board got through just one of the three topics it was scheduled to address on Tuesday. To make up for that, they agreed to convene again before their planned September meeting. In spite of it, the Board has not fallen behind.

“We just had so much public comment to get through on all three of these articles, it was probably optimistic to think we would finish them all,” Schulte said. “But it’s not a problem: we’re still on track.”

Meetings, however, cost money, and that is creating some unexpected issues.

The Board is supposed to reflect state-wide interests, and as such it’s members reside state-wide: From Bethel, to Juneau, to Fairbanks. While teleconferencing is an option, Board members say it does not work well: it’s slow, they miss out on important facial cues, and one of them can only call in–video isn’t available for him. But the amount of money set aside by Legislators is firmly set.

“The budget covered the cost for five meetings in a fiscal year,” said Cynthia Franklin, Director of the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board, which oversees its marijuana counterpart. “This is requiring extra meetings. We did not build that into the budget.”

The newly added meeting will be at the end of August. Schulte thought it was so important he even offered to pick up the extra expenses himself, using air miles. Ultimately, it is likely to be digital.

The state’s latest round of draft regulations are open for public comment on the DCCED website.