Fairbanks City Council approves marijuana regulations that limit retail shops to 25

Most of the standing-room-only crowd that turned out for Monday’s City Council meeting identified themselves by wearing red shirts, for those supported stricter marijuana regulation, and green shirts, for those favoring looser regs. (Photo by Tim Ellis/KUAC)

After a heated debate, the Fairbanks City Council approved an ordinance Monday that added regulations to the marijuana industry. The amended ordinance maintains the city’s ban on on-site consumption of cannabis. But it would allow more than twice as many retail shops as the original ordinance introduced by Mayor Jim Matherly.

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The council chambers were once again packed with partisans for and against the marijuana-regulating ordinance introduced by Mayor Jim Matherly three months ago. But this time, it was the councilmembers’ turn to talk as they debated a flurry of amendments to the ordinance, starting with a provision limiting the number of retail shops in the city to 12.

Matherly says he chose that number because that’s how many of the shops were operating or about to open.

“Nine were open, three were in the queue — that’s where I originally started with the 12 to get it on the table for discussion,” Matherly said.

Jerry Cleworth said the substitute ordinance that he and June Rogers introduced set the limit at 15, based on the principle that marijuana ought to be regulated like alcohol, as legalized-marijuana supporters have long advocated.

“Right now, inside the city, we have 15 operating package stores, which is the equivalent to a retail establishment for cannabis,” Cleworth said.

Valerie Therrien moved to amend the substitute ordinance to eliminate the limit and to delete a provision that would require the city to reduce that number to 11 over time.

“We don’t need to put a number on the number of establishments that we need to have in our community,” Therrien said. “I believe that zoning is going to take care of that.”

The council members approved that proposal by a five-to-one vote, with Cleworth dissenting. Therrien then moved to increase the retail-store limit to 25. She said that would be fair for the six shops now in business, as well as the three that are close to opening and 16 others that’ve submitted applications and are under review by the state Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office.

“I don’t think it was fair to the marijuana industry to limit the number of licenses after people had already initiated and spent their money,” Therrien said, “And now say to them, ‘Oh, we’re going to cut it down to 15.’ ”

After a lengthy debate, the council narrowly approved setting the limit at 25, with Cleworth, Rogers and Jonathan Bagwill voting no and Joy Huntington, David Pruhs and Therrien voting yes – and with Matherly casting the fourth and tie-breaking affirmative vote.

Pruhs and Therrien also prevailed in a vote to eliminate a proposal to establish a new method of measuring the minimum buffer of 750 feet between a marijuana retail shop and residential areas, schools and rehab facilities. Their amendment re-established the use of the borough’s simpler system of measuring property line to property line.

But they did not succeed in convincing the council to go along with a provision to authorize establishments to allow consumption of marijuana on-site. Pruhs told marijuana advocates at the meeting that that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.

“No one on this council has a taste for on-site consumption,” Pruhs said. “It’s not legal in the state of Alaska. It’s not legal in Fairbanks.”

But the council approved the amended ordinance 6-to-0. Afterward, Matherly suggested to all in attendance that they may not have heard the last word on the issue.

“This is not the last you’ll see of this ordinance, I’m sure, and the discussion surrounding it,” Matherly said. “Just so everyone knows.”

But for now, the city’s marijuana industry has for the first time a complete set of rules under which to operate.