At it’s Tuesday meeting (Jan. 12, 2015), the Sitka Assembly decided to contest the state’s proposed setback distance for pot business. The provision – detailed in the final regulations by the Marijuana Control Board – would require 500 feet of distance between any marijuana establishment and schools, churches, and prisons.
With a vote of 5-2, Sitka joins Petersburg in penning a letter to the State Department of Law, requesting the setback be reduced to 200 feet, at minimum. But there was disagreement on the Assembly about whether the department – which is reviewing the regs – would even listen and if they did, whether 200 feet was too close for comfort.
Now, imagine you’ve been given the keys to your very own marijuana business, but you can’t build it within 500 feet of schools, recreation or youth centers, any buildings where religious services are currently conducted or correctional facilities.
Where would you build? Where can you build? Definitely not in Sitka’s downtown.
Addressing the Assembly, Levi Albertson, the Chair of the Marijuana Advisory Committee, said this disappoints members of the committee. “We’d like to see some downtown marijuana related trade for the tourists. [The 500 foot setback provision] eliminates quite a bit of that possibility.” By comparison, the setback for liquor establishments is 200 feet.
The city provided the Assembly these maps, demonstrating the differences between a 500 foot buffer and a 200 buffer:
Lindsay Evans, the newest member of the committee, said that any prospective business owners would have to set up shop further down Sitka’s fourteen miles of road. “The only areas that I could see retail marijuana going to was the industrial areas, like the Granite Creek neighborhood or the place out the road by the old pulp mill – [the Gary Paxton Industrial Park].” Retail operations are currently not allowed at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park.
Albertson said the state may well ignore Sitka’s request, but urged the Assembly to try. Bob Potrzuski, who serves on the Marijuana Advisory Committee, felt that having that buffer zone may be preferable to Sitkans and spoke against sending the letter. “I’ve heard a lot of talk of people that would be against having marijuana dispensaries downtown,” Potrzuski said.
Potrzuski said he was also persuaded by the opinion of Aaron Bean, who wants to start a business in Sitka and kept a close ear on the state’s regulatory meetings last fall.
“[Bean] was not in favor of this letter being sent. His feeling was that during meetings where the regs were being decided upon, the marijuana industry was really granted a lot of concessions. [The 500 ft. setback] was one of those things that the other side really held very, very tightly,” Potrzuski said. “So when the number one guy in favor of starting a business hear in Sitka speaks against this, that meant a lot to me. And there’s always an opportunity to put those tourists on a bus and take them out to wherever it is they can buy and smoke.
Assembly member Steven Eisenbeisz, who also serves on the committee, interpreted that setback reduction to 200 feet differently – saying it would give Sitka greater wiggle room.
City attorney Robin Koutchak backed that point. Koutchak said, “Really the bottom line on this ordinance was local control, especially the island communities. That they will be able to – according to their own ideals and their own zoning and regulations and so forth – be able to be flexible.” That includes, Koutchak added, creating perimeters over 500 feet if necessary.
In the end, the Sitka Assembly passed the resolution 5-2, with Bob Potrzuski and Ben Miyasato voting against it. The city plans to move quickly on this, since the State Department of Law will conclude their review of the regulations soon.
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot has until Jan. 24, 2016, to sign them. The Marijuana Control Board will begin accepting applications for marijuana business licenses on Feb. 24.