Marijuana fees generate funds for student travel in Sitka

Student activities in Sitka are getting a boost from the marijuana industry. During their meeting last week, the Assembly approved depositing all money generated from state marijuana licensing fees into a specific fund for student travel sponsored by the school district.

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Assemblyman Steven Eisenbeisz believes this could generate $8000 to $10,000, depending on how the burgeoning pot industry takes off. So far, state has awarded licenses to three cultivation facilities and one retail shop. Each state fee costs $5000 and local communities receive half of that.

As for student activities in Sitka, the local contribution has been fairly stable – $132,000 this year – and teams and clubs fundraise to make up the rest. With but more students flying to competitions around Southeast, the need is greater. Superintendent Mary Wegner says she appreciates the Assembly’s creativity.

“Activities and athletics are a great antidote to smoking marijuana,” Wegner said. “When you’re involved with activities you don’t want to. So it is a very interesting and novel approach, but I appreciate the [Assembly’s] creativity in keeping the students first and foremost in their minds and in their actions.”

The idea wasn’t embraced by everyone, though. Aaron Bean, owner of the grow and retail operation Green Leaf Inc., objected to the ordinance, stressing the importance of keeping marijuana out of young hands.

“If we’re funding school programs and the kids that are traveling know where these funds come through, I would hate to encourage…it’s not direct advertising, but I feel like it’s priming if that makes sense. in these programs know…I wouldn’t be in favor of that as a business owner,” Bean said.

Mim McConnell, who completed her final meeting as Sitka’s Mayor Tuesday night, said that while she understand where Bean was coming from, there is precedent.

“To me, it’s kind of like the tobacco tax going to the hospital,” McConnell said. “We don’t give it to the hospital and people thinking, ‘Money going to the hospital? Let’s smoke more.’ So hopefully that’s not what people thing.”

The ordinance then passed unanimously, on second and final reading.