The nitty-gritty rules that will shape Anchorage’s cannabis industry

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Assembly members in Anchorage have passed a bundle of rules that will shape the business landscape for the state’s largest commercial cannabis market in the months and years ahead.

The Xerox machine chugged along late into the night as lawmakers discussed 20 different measures on cannabis–many hot off the press. The devil is in the details, and even though most of the measures are rule-changes to a land-use ordinance, the impacts are far-reaching.

If you feel like you’ve been hearing about new marijuana rules a lot lately–you’re right. With the state and local governments fast approaching the start of the application process on February 24th, communities and potential cannabis businesses need to be on the same page about all kinds nitty-gritty rules–everything from how much an application costs to how far a pot shop can be from a school. After ironing out many details during an Assembly meeting Tuesday night, few in attendence left completely happy.

“We have such limited land available for this industry,” said Assembly Member Bill Evans of South Anchorage in between votes. “Every one of these restrictions makes things more expensive, and makes the chances of success for a legitimate industry replacing the black market that much harder.”

Among the items settled Tuesday nights, businesses will have to be at least 500 feet from sensitive establishments like schools and churches. And that distance will be measured lot-line to lot-line “as the crow flies,” rather than by pedestrian paths–which regulators say makes their jobs easier.

Small-scale growers in residential neighborhoods will not be allowed to sell products commercially. Another decision allows for police officers to be present during facility inspections.

Evans worries that cumulatively the rules tend more towards limitation than liberalism.

“Some people have an over-abundance of caution when it comes to marijuana, and are trying to restrict it as much as they can.”

Members of the nascent industry agree.

Kim Kole is with the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, and is planning on applying for a business licence that includes a space to consume cannabis products within the same the shop where customers buy them. Because the assembly declined to pass an explicit allowance for on-site consumption–saying it wasn’t sufficiently fleshed out yet—-Kole doesn’t have clarity on the local rules. She’ll keep getting the space ready with the hope that the assembly will quickly redraft a rule giving the OK for on-site consumption in the weeks ahead.

“And if they don’t then I will just have a really big retail (space) or, I dunno, I will have to revamp from there, I guess,” Kole said after the on-site consumption amendment failed in a 5-to-6 vote. “That is one of the things I was told before I got into this: You have to be flexible.”

Kole believes the process was flawed, too, and that the Assembly did not heed recommendations made to them from Planning and Zoning board, citing one assembly member in particular.

“Planning and Zoning also stated publicly that they felt as though the assembly was trying to zone us out of existence, and clearly that is Ms. Demboski’s intent,” Kole said, referring to remarks made during a January meeting.

“The industry may be mad. Quite frankly, I’m more concerned about my constituents being represented than them being mad at me,” said Assembly Member Amy Demboski during an interview after the meeting.

The measures Demboski introduced were aimed at codifying more stringent land-use measures not across the municipality, but specifically in her Chugiak-Eagle River district, which has it’s own advisory board that deals with zoning codes. Demboski’s argument throughout the night was that her communities have a more conservative take on commercial cannabis than many other constituencies, and that they were insufficiently consulted. The rush of amendments ahead of discussion, she explained, is due partly to scrambling to incorporate feedback from her constituents after a town hall meeting over the weekend.

“This is a process, and municipal code guarantees community input, and unfortunately at this point they hadn’t weighed in on the changes from (Planning and Zoning),” Demboski said. “It was my job and it was Mr. Starr’s job to ensure the community voice was heard loud and clear, and I think we acheived that tonight,” she added, referring to Chugiak-Eagle River’s other representative Bill Starr.

The local votes come just ahead of a Thursday meeting by the state’s Marijuana Control Board in Juneau to discuss regulations and an updated timeline for issuing license.