Cannabis deadline means beginning of applications, but not sales

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Wednesday is an important date in the state’s long process of licensing commercial cannabis in Alaska: The deadline for the state to have a permit application up and running.

(Marie Richie/Flickr)
(Marie Richie/Flickr)

“From the stand-point of somebody that wants to go into the industry, February 24th is actually the starting point, it’s not a deadline at all, it’s really just the first date,” said Bruce Schulte, Chair of the state’s Marijuana Control Board.

For anyone expecting to start buying cannabis products in stores, there are still many months to go before the start of legal sales.

Though the state is required to start collecting applications, there are many regulations and rules that are not yet settled. For example, most local governments have not finalized their own laws for allowing prospective businesses.

Schulte expects dozens of applications to be filed in the days ahead. Once an application is submitted, it kicks off an extensive vetting process of feedback from community councils, local governing bodies, and background checks of the applicant before going in front of the state’s Marijuana Control Board for review in June.

According to Schulte, commercial sales may begin by late August under the current time-line. But that’s assuming municipal bodies like the Anchorage Assembly can iron out the details that are fundamental to industry regulation.

“There’s still a lot of questions about what parts of town are open to this industry, and what properties are gonna be suitable,” Schulte said during a phone interview. “I think a lot of people are just gonna let the dust settle before they commit to a piece of property, because there’s a significant investment involved.”

Schulte is himself one such applicant. A criteria for his position as an industry seat on the state’s Marijuana Control Board is a commercial interest in the emerging business. But even he sees the emerging regulatory framework across the state as a daunting prospect for investment at this time.

“Being kind of a conservative guy in that way, I’m waiting to see how all the planets are going to align before I commit to a piece of property and a specific application,” Schulte said with a laugh.

Tuesday night, the Anchorage Assembly voted on a revised zoning regulation with far-reaching implications for commercial cannabis businesses going forward.

The body approved an amendment brought forward by downtown Assembly Member Patrick Flynn to a recently passed zoning ordinance that lays out how far cannabis businesses have to be from sensitive establishments like schools and playgrounds. In most of the municipality the distance will now be 500 feet, measured by the shortest pedestrian route. In the Chugiak-Eagle River area, however, a more restrictive 1,000 foot barrier will be assessed from lot-line to lot-line “as the crow flies.”

The distinctions are part of an ongoing dispute over how restrictive a regulatory regime to adopt over commercial cannabis in the state’s largest city. Assembly members from the more conservative Chugiak-Eagle River district say they are representing the wishes of their constituents by pushing for tighter regulations over where retail shops, grow operations, and processing facilities can be located. But cannabis advocates and industry groups say the Assembly is zoning them out of existence.

Adding that regulators are overwhelmed in advance of the deadline, Schulte recommended that questions about applications are best directed to the Marijuana Control Board’s website for now.