Marijuana regulators in Alaska narrowly rejected a proposal that would have made the state the first in the country to permit marijuana consumers to smoke the weed they purchase at the retail shops selling it.
In a 3-2 vote, the Alaska Marijuana Control Board decided not to permit it, which frustrated the industry officials and business owners who vowed to continue to press for some kind of allowable marijuana use at retail stores.
The proposed new rules would have let individuals purchase marijuana goods in authorized shops and go into different shop areas to use the weed.
Board member Mark Springer, who was among those who voted to reject the measure, suggested to take the matter slowly, citing doubt with how President Donald Trump’s administration might see marijuana.
Recreational marijuana was legalized in eight states as well as in the District of Columbia however, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.
“We do not want to be waving a red flag in front of federal law enforcement, at least not now,” Springer said.
Loren Jones, another board member, said the panel received many public opinions opposed to onsite use. He’s been concerned about the way in which the rule would jibe with community ordinances calling for smoke-free workplaces.
The board was mulling the concept of onsite use since late 2015.
James Barrett, who runs a retail pot store in Juneau with his brother, called the vote a “fear-based reaction.” He said their business plan won’t be affected by the decision that was made but they viewed the onsite use proposition as a means to enable people to use marijuana responsibly and safely.
Cary Carrigan, executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, said his group would work toward looking for means to allow marijuana consumers to use pot at authorized shops. That adjustment will need to take place at some point, he said.
Carrigan said there could be pandemonium during Alaska’s approaching summer tourism season, the first when legal marijuana stores will probably be open in the state.
One of many driving forces on the other side of the proposition was supplying a place for tourists, particularly cruise ship passengers, to have a legal area to use marijuana after purchasing it, since public consumption is prohibited. Marijuana is banned on cruise ships.
“What are they going to do?” Carrigan said. “There is going to be 500 people standing on the piers, smoking a joint.”
That is what cannabis entrepreneurs Ben Wilcox and Sean Purvis also worry about. The effort to legalize marijuana was based on the assumption that it would be controlled like alcohol, they said.
Purvis has held off on submitting an application for a permit, while Wilcox held off on procuring retail space in Juneau’s expensive real estate market until he knew what the board would do on onsite use. He did not want to unnecessarily pay for a larger place.
Wilcox said he already has merchandise manufacturing and cultivation permits and said he had probably submit his application for a retail license within days, “now that we know that we are opting for the small place.”
This past year more than 2 million tourists visited Alaska, and only over half arrived on cruise ships. A study ran for the state estimated tourists from the 2014-15 season spent $1.9 billion in Alaska, largely during the summer months.
Critics have said tourists won’t come to Alaska just for its legal marijuana because other states also have legalized recreational weed.
The board’s rejection of the measure came after Sara Chambers, acting director of Alaska’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, told board members the public notice for the onsite consumption proposition was improperly made.
The board subsequently had several choices, including re-marketing the measure for another 30 days or deciding not to advance it. They went with the latter choice.