The Anchorage Municipality may use its leverage as the state’s population center to influence how laws on commercial marijuana take shape in the year ahead.
Anchorage Assembly member Amy Demboski is behind a proposed ordinance that would ban the sale and cultivation of marijuana in the city. Nation-wide pot is in legal limbo: voters in states and cities are opting for legalization, but the at the federal level it’s still a controlled substance. Those inconsistencies could get very tangled when it comes to entities like banks and highways, which operate locally but have federal standards. Like, say, if you use a federal highway to deposit cash you made selling commercial marijuana, are you or your bank breaking federal laws on money laundering and illegal transport? See how quickly this get’s tricky?
Demboski believes its prudent to let other communities in Alaska test the waters on commercialization first:
“To me this is just a wait-and-see approach. In no way is this advocating for a ban on personal use of marijuana at all,” Demboski said. “All I’m saying is before we get into a commercialized industry that’s still federally illegal, we need to understand and make sure there’s no federal impacts when it comes to millions of dollars in transportation dollars.”
Because of its population, Anchorage is the largest potential market in the state for regulated marijuana, and Demboski thinks leveraging that influence can help residents and the city set better terms in the implementation phase.
“I think by opting out now what it does is it gives the citizens of Anchorage the opportunity to really be a loud voice in the development of these regulations,” Demboski said. “I think you’ll see the marijuana industry, I think you’ll see the state regulators come to the city of Anchorage and say ‘what is it you’re concerned about’ as we move forward, and ‘what is it that Anchorage needs in order to move forward with this potential industry.'”
But not everyone agrees that a local ban is a wise strategy. Proponents of the Ballot 2 initiative that passed this November say Demboski’s ordinance ignores the will of the majority of voters.
“For the Anchorage Assembly to consider opting out now is, we think, irresponsible and wildly premature,” Demboski said.
Bruce Schulte is spokesman for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation. Given that under the state’s timeline for implementation it will be another 15 months before commercial terms are set and permits accepted, no one knows yet what the rules will look like.
“Because those governing bodies have no more information to work from than the voters did on November 4th,” Schulte said.
Schulte and his organization are not pushing for every community in the state to allow pot. He says Ballot Measure 2 specifically includes the option for local bans, the same way many communities across Alaska have voted to go dry or damp. But Schulte says what’s at stake is making an informed decision on what exactly is being banned, and what “wait-and-see” actually means.
“Local communities have the option to opt out, and it’s expected that some will. If they feel that marijuana is overly burdensome, well they have that right,” Schulte said. “As does the municipality of Anchorage. We just feel that it’s irresponsible to do so now. We think the prudent this is do is wait and see what the state-wide regulations look like before making that determination.”
Demboski’s ordinance, which is co-sponsored by Assembly member Dick Traini, will have a public hearing during the Assembly’s regular meeting on December 16th.