Proposed Anchorage Ban on Commercial Pot Fails in Assembly

The Anchorage Assembly’s vote last night to uphold the state’s timetable for developing commercial marijuana guidelines has state-wide implications.

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As the largest potential market for commercial pot, much of the drive behind the proposed measure was to leverage Anchorage’s size in order to shape how regulations develop in the year ahead.

“This goes back to an absolute opportunity to negotiate from a position of strength, not to be a follower,” explained Assembly member Amy Demboski, who introduced the bill as a “wait and see” approach. “To me this is an opportunity to be problem-solvers, not to be obstructionist, it’s literally to look at it and say ‘ok, how do we proceed carefully.'”

Almost a hundred people came to last night’s meeting, many of them to share their feelings on the marijuana ordinance. The majority of those who spoke during public testimony opposed the ban, citing reasons that spanned the ideological spectrum, appealing to democracy, tax policy, and even scripture as they made their case.

Likewise, those testifying to keep commercial marijuana out of Anchorage offered a diverse range of reasons.

“We don’t need another industry promoting the use and increased use of another intoxicant,” explained Jeff Jesse, CEO of the Alaska Mental Health Trust, who believes commercialization could exacerbate Alaska’s already-high rate of substance abuse. “Ending prohibition does not necessitate the creation of an industry to promote increased consumption.”

After hours of testimony and debate, the assembly overwhelmingly voted to kill the measure, with only Demboski and Assembly member Paul Honeman supporting it.

Drafting the regulations around marijuana will take months, and some who supported the ballot campaign think the hardest work is still ahead. In February state legislators will start the year-long process of laying out the specific rules determining permits, taxes, advertisements–all the technical details that come with an industry.

Bruce Schulte is with the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, and says after input has been collected from around the state, communities will then have three months to decide whether the commercial regulations fit local needs.

“That three month window is the appropriate and proper time for any community around the state to look at the state-wide rules, consider their own needs and objectives and then make a decision to opt out or apply additional rules and guidelines of their own,” Schulte explained. “Honestly, what makes sense for Anchorage is going to make just as much sense for Fairbanks, for Bethel, for Nome, for Kotz.”]

The vote doesn’t mean Anchorage will automatically opt in to regulations once they are done, only that a “wait and see” approach will unfold over a longer timeline.