Mat-Su takes up pot codes

A Matanuska-Susitna Borough marijuana ordinance had its first reading before the Borough Assembly Tuesday night. But even if the ordinance gains approval, it may be overshadowed by a future Borough election.

A seventeen member Borough committee worked to write the legislation, [ordinance 16-003] which regulates retail marijuana sales in the Borough. The ordinance defines marijuana, marijuana retail and commercial growing operations, standards of operations and permitting.

The Assembly took no action on the legislation on Tuesday, but heard an unusual request from former Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss.

“I’d like to remind you that there is a voter initiative on the ballot this fall. And I’d like you to consider to hold permits on commercial marijuana until after that election.”  DeVilbiss said during the audience participation portion of the meeting.

A Borough voter initiative on retail marijuana is scheduled for the Borough’s October ballot. DeVilbiss told the Assembly that Borough voters need to weigh in on commercial sales,  as have voters in city elections in the three cities within the Borough.  And he  predicted that the October vote this time could have a different outcome than the recreational marijuana initiative on the 2014 state ballot.

“It’s a very different question from Ballot Measure Two. You are moving from the privacy and the very limited quantities of personal use out on to main street with totally unlimited quantities.”

DeVilbiss sponsored the city legislation  banning pot sales in Palmer that gained approval there last year. Ironically, voters in Palmer approved Ballot Measure Two in 2014.

Borough Assemblyman Jim Sykes calls DeVilbiss’ request “surprising”.

“It was he who actually started the whole process rolling. I wrote the legislation to create the committee, and he appointed everybody on it. I think that people are very well aware, and anyone who applies for a permit will be aware that a permit could be rescinded if the public vote goes the way the former mayor predicts it.”

Sykes says the point of the Borough’s legislation is to ensure that  Borough codes are in line with state statutes and to have Borough regulations in place before the state begins accepting permit applications in April.

Sarah Williams, chair of the Borough’s Marijuana Advisory Board, said Borough permits should be issued before October, since businesses would likely accept the risk of a voter ban on retail sales.

“So, holding permits until election, is not necessarily the best way to go.  As a business owner, they need to make awareness to themselves as ‘hey, do I want to take that risk or not.’ Our industry is already mobilizing, and we will be educating the public.”

Of the cities within the Borough, Wasilla and Palmer have banned commercial marijuana operations within city limits, while Houston has approved them.
The Mat Su Borough Assembly will take public testimony on the Borough’s pot retail regulations ordinance on March 1.