Assembly vote means Anchorage business can start growing legal pot

The Anchorage Assembly voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a move forward for the municipality’s first commercial cannabis business, setting the stage for crops of legal marijuana to be planted in the weeks ahead.

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The step is one of the first meaningful tests of the local approval process in the state’s evolving commercial cannabis regulatory scheme. But the Assembly held up another permit from passage, signaling local officials want the final say in determining the specifics behind which businesses will be allowed to open.

Assembly members were basically triple-checking the applications by two prospective cannabis growing businesses. The two applicants have both already been green-lighted by the state’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board, as well as Anchorage’s Planning and Zoning Commission. When assembly members discussed the first application, submitted by Green Dream Farms for a conditional land-use permit, they were extremely impressed.

“This is the most detailed business plan I’ve ever seen,” said Pete Peterson, hardly alone in heaping praise on the business. “To top this one is going to really take something.”

Green Dream owner Justin Rolland said he and his business partners have invested around $250,000 into the venture just getting to this point, and part of that includes legal advise to get the application aligned with state and local codes. The local approval vote was one of the last major hurdles, allowing the company to finish construction of their space in an industrial section of Mountain View.

“We didn’t want to put that kind of investment into the project without knowing that we were going to be good for that location,” Rolland said just after the vote. “Now we’ll get plants in the ground, we’ll get state inspections to come in, and then we’ll be growing.”

Though Anchorage’s review criteria for the municipal licence is similar to the one used by state officials with AMCO, some prospective businesses see it as an unnecessarily burdensome process. The Fairbanks North Star Borough, by contrast, has no local licence requirement, and its Planning Commission has approved dozens of prospective businesses over the last few months.

Rolland anticipates his company to have cannabis products to sell come January 1st, and already has prospective clients. First though, they’ll need their local permits approved, as well.

But the night’s second license review didn’t go as well.

Several assembly members objected to issues raised in the business plan brought forward by Bryant Thorp of Arctic Herbery, specifically that his location is nearby to residential properties and that he plans to eventually apply for a retail licence in the same location.

After a lengthy discussion, the assembly referred it to a committee focused on community and economic development for closer review. And what followed was a motion to refer all future cannabis applications to the same committee. The idea is that a smaller, more technically minded body is able to better assess whether or not a business applicant’s vision meshes with local standards.

Assembly member Patrick Flynn was excused from voting after disclosing he owns a small stake in a cultivation business that will be coming before the assembly in the near future.

Assembly members also voted to ban smoking and vaping in Town Square Park. The ordinance failed to gain enough votes when it came up a few weeks ago. But this time, the item’s main proponent, assembly member Dick Traini, said it was lightly amended to address past concerns, explaining that the intent is to try improving the park’s troubled image.

“This will help to change that,” Traini said after the vote. “We’re trying to re-do Town Square to make it more appealing to citizens and families.”

The measure passed seven to four, with no votes cast by Amy Demboski, Flynn, Bill Evans and John Wheddleton.

Additionally, the Assembly unanimously passed a bill aimed at identifying and cleaning up derelict buildings.