Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office hires new director

The state announced Tuesday (Feb. 21) a new head for the office in charge of regulating alcohol and marijuana.

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Erika McConnell has worked in Anchorage’s municipal planning department for more than a decade. More recently, she wrote the city’s regulations for commercial cannabis businesses.

McConnell’s new job as director of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office falls under the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development. Commissioner Chris Hladick said her expertise on local regulation makes McConnell an asset for state administration.

“She’s well positioned to take on management and regulatory duties of this position,” Hladick said. “She was the marijuana coordinator a while for the city, and I think that speeds up her on-boarding process as she learns the state’s regulatory structure.”

The AMCO director has a lot of influence shaping the state government’s role in Alaska’s new cannabis industry. McConnell will have a say in controversial issues like on-site consumption and the legality of certain concentrated oils.

Though many of the rules regulating marijuana businesses are already written, the implementation of those rules has raised numerous issues that McConnell will have to weigh in on. That includes decisions *about* controversial measures that are still in limbo, like whether or not to allow on-site consumption and legal disputes over certain concentrated oils.

Shortly after news of the appointment, opinions from industry members were mixed.

Bruce Schulte is the former chair of the marijuana control board, and has reservations over whether McConnell’s background will align with industry needs.

“It is a fact that Anchorage has been one of the most difficult communities–really the most difficult community for any of these businesses to get established,” Schulte said. “And Erika’s been very key in that process, so I hope that we don’t see any more complication extend state-wide like what we’ve seen in Anchorage.”

Schulte frequently disagreed about policy decisions made by the last head of AMCO, Cynthia Franklin, before he was dismissed from his position by Governor Walker. Schulte said he hopes that McConnell will bring a “broader perspective” to the office, which he’s criticized for being too top-down in the rule-making process.

“I would hope that we’d see a friendlier interaction with the cannabis industry, and an AMCO office that’s there to help them succeed rather than throw yet more obstacles in their way,” Schulte said.

Others found the appointment more encouraging. Attorney Jana Weltzin represents several cannabis businesses in Alaska, and says, in her dealings, she’s found McConnell to be tough but fair. Weltzin added, “she’s going to be hard on both sides — which is how it should be.”

McConnell takes over as AMCO director on March 30th.

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Zachariah Hughes reports on city & state politics, arts & culture, drugs, and military affairs in Anchorage and South Central Alaska. @ZachHughesAK About Zachariah

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