Marijuana is in legal limbo in Alaska. Multiple bills in the Legislature will determine everything from permits to penalties, and in the meantime municipalities are scrambling find rules that protect the public, but also make room for an emerging industry. A new business in Anchorage is taking its first tentative steps forward navigating the shifting legal landscape.
Inside a brand new private marijuana club air purifiers whir. The room is huge, with a stage at one end, lounge chairs in another, and high ceilings.
“We have a bar,” said Theresa Collins before adding, “no alcohol products!”
Collins showed off jars of free candy and abundant soda options. “We got our food permit and so we do have a munchies menu–been doing like little sliders, nachos, different kind of munchie items for our members.”
Collins is one of the co-owners of Pot Luck Events, a members-only private business hoping to capitalize on Alaska’s expanding legal market for marijuana.
“We’re not selling marijuana, we’re selling an experience. We want a safe place for people to come and consume their marijuana products,” Collins explained. “There is no place like this in Anchorage, and people have been asking for it.”
As far as anyone knows, the Pot Luck club is doing everything legally. Costumers buy a membership package ranging from $20 for a month, to $500 for a year’s worth of access to events, a VIP lounge, and line skipping.
You can bring marijuana as long as it is less that one ounce, but you cannot buy or sell marijuana products inside because so far the state does not allow legal sales. Members are not breaking prohibitions against consuming in public because the club is private. And before even passing coat check, new members are have to show ID and sign a waiver that outlines good conduct. Breaking it gets you kicked out.
It is less like a bar to drop into than an events hall hosting parties, cannabis tastings, and assorted special occasions.
“We’ve actually had interest for two weddings,” said Collins. “We’re definitely open to any type of event that somebody wants to have, and it doesn’t have to be 420 friendly.”
The space’s soft open was last week, “St. Potrick’s Day,” which Collins said went extremely well.
Puns aside, marijuana is serious business, and Collins and her partners have invested a lot of money and time making sure they are on the right side of existing rules. It has not been easy. They struggled to find insurance, a space to rent, and are running everything by a lawyer for advice on compliance with city, state, and Federal rules that are changing week to week.
“You can operate successfully in a professional way, and still have fun,” explained Jami Hicks, another of Pot Luck Events four owners.
On top of raising money and hiring a staff of 15, part of their business plan has been reaching out to neighbors and law enforcement so everyone knows what they are doing. “That was the first thing,” said Hicks, “meet the neighbors, shake hands, find out what the community needs.”
Even though the laws on marijuana are a bit murky right now, that does not mean new businesses can operate carte blanche. The Anchorage Police Department recently executed a search warrant on a high profile business allegedly selling cannabis products, with more charges expected.
Bruce Schulte is the spokesman for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, and says Pot Luck Events is the kind of business that policy advocates have been hoping would appear after Ballot Measure 2 passed.
“They are being good neighbors, they are being very up-front with APD and the fire marshall about what they’re doing, and how many people are going to be on-sight, so I think that’s helping perception, they’re doing everything they can to be model citizens and I think that’s hugely important right now,” Schulte said.
With just a few weeks left in the legislative session, several Assembly members of a sub-committee tasked with overseeing marijuana implementation in Anchorage see the prospect of comprehensive state-wide legislation as unlikely. And that shifts the job of regulation to local governments. Which is fine for many officials in Alaska’s largest city. The municipality has already gotten into the particulars of looking at permit structures and public consumption rules. Todd Sherwood is with the city’s legal department, and says they are hoping for more municipal discretion in designing regulations.
“Every municipality is a little different, but that’s one thing I would say we generally agree on is we want the maximum amount of local control,” said Todd Sherwood with the municipality’s legal department. “But we just don’t know what we can do until we have a complete package really from the state, and then we can work with that.”
Pot Luck Events is just one business getting out in front of the changing circumstances. However, they are not alone. Hicks said they have been contacted by around 50 vendors and businesses about collaborating on events. For now they feel like they have been lucky with how things have come together. They even found a building that is its own advertisement.
“When 420 W. 3rd Avenue came up we couldn’t really pass that up,” Hicks laughed.