Architect of Alaska marijuana regulations to leave as industry starts

Cynthia Franklin has been in charge of the body now known as the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board since September 2014. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development website)
Cynthia Franklin has been in charge of the body now known as the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board since September 2014. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development website)

The state regulator in charge of marijuana and alcohol is stepping down. Or at least, stepping aside.

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Cynthia Franklin took over the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board in 2014, which evolved into the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office after voters approved Ballot Measure 2 which legalized commercial cannabis.

Now, the woman who has been instrumental in building Alaska’s pot industry is leaving just as it’s becoming a reality.

Before taking over AMCO, Franklin was Anchorage’s municipal prosecutor. Part of the reason she’s leaving her job as a top regulator is to get back to what she knows best.

“I’ve been a lawyer since 1989, and I’m an advocate, and this role was challenging for me because it calls for someone who’s of more of a neutral position,” Franklin said in a phone interview Thursday. “But in the end I’m a lawyer, and I’m going to go back and practice law.”

Franklin’s new job is as an assistant attorney general for the state’s Consumer Protection Unit within the Department of Law.

As the director of AMCO, Franklin guided the state’s efforts creating the new legal pot industry.

“We are the only state in the country to create a marijuana industry from scratch,” Franklin said. “No existing stores were open, no licenses were issued when our ballot measure passed.”

Unlike Colorado, Oregon or Washington, Alaska didn’t have a medical marijuana industry to use as a template for its recreational regulation. And getting to this point has not been easy.

Under Franklin’s tenure, the tiny office has written a dense regulatory framework with mountains of input from Alaskans, gotten bills passed in the legislature and set up the state’s permit application system.

Part of the reason Franklin is leaving now is the industry is developed enough that it can survive without her.

“I also have a daughter going into middle school who’s really going to need her mom — even if she’s not going to want me,” Franklin laughed.

Franklin said her time leading AMCO hasn’t allowed her to “have much of a life.” The office has been chronically short-staffed — just seven people cover marijuana issues for the entire state.

Franklin’s tenure hasn’t been without criticism.

She’s had a relationship that was at times tense with the Marijuana Control Board. She took heat from prospective business owners for her office not moving more swiftly, as well as from citizens and local governments who remain opposed to legal marijuana.

But as she prepares to leave, Franklin’s biggest concerns come not from state actors, but instead from the Federal Government. In particular, she worries over how it will deal with states that have legalized marijuana.

“The attorney general nominee, (Sen. R-Ala.) Jeff Sessions, has certainly made a lot of statements about the credibility of the Attorney General’s Office being damaged by issuing memos about what they will and won’t prosecute, which is exactly the way that state’s are permitted by the federal government to experiment in legalized marijuana,” Franklin said.

Franklin’s last day with the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development is January 6th.