Bethel City Council passes 6-month hold on marijuana applications

Cannabis Plant. (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Cannabis Plant. (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

To buy the city time to figure out its marijuana regulations, Bethel City Council has placed a six-month hold on processing any land use, zoning, or licensing approvals for marijuana operations in Bethel. The measure passed unanimously at Tuesday’s council meeting.

The state will begin accepting marijuana applications next month and then reviewing them in May. But council members, including Chuck Herman, think that’s too soon for Bethel to work out its marijuana laws.

“I read it as essentially keeping the status quo for six more months so we can figure out what we’re doing and look around the state and see what other people are doing,” Herman said.

Entrepreneurs can still submit marijuana applications for Bethel before the six-months ban lifts, but City Attorney Patty Burley says the moratorium sends a message to the Alaska Marijuana Control Board that Bethel applications don’t count until July.

“It would slow down when they can accept them for Bethel or would give the city leverage to say, ‘We’re not ready. You can’t have it here yet,’” Burley said.

Council member Zach Fansler serves on the Bethel Marijuana Advisory Committee and introduced the ordinance after realizing the committee needs more time to research the state’s regulations in addition to the city creating its own regulations. That process becomes more difficult, Fansler says, with the state laws still being negotiated. Fansler also says the extension gives the city more time to collect public comment to help guide decision making.

“We want to be able to, when we bring those recommendations, have data and reasoning behind them,” Fansler said.

Mayor Rick Robb offered the disclaimer that City Council does not advocate marijuana use.