Alaska’s New Marijuana Control Board Votes on Four Issues

On July 1, 2015, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker announced the long-awaited appointment of the five members to the Marijuana Control Board.

The appointees are: Soldotna Police Chief Peter Mlynarik; City and Borough of Juneau Assembly member Loren Jones; Bethel City Council member Mark Springer; Spokesman for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, Bruce Schulte; and Executive Director for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation in Alaska, Brandon Emmett.

After their appointment was announced, the board quickly convened the next day to address some of the issues facing the fledgling marijuana market. While the board does not have the authority to alter existing law, they can present recommendations or a “wish list” for the legislature to tackle.

The board voted unanimously on four critical issues, which were:

  • allowing villages to opt out of marijuana sales,
  • clarifying the difference between personal and illegal grow sites,
  • updating the criminal code, and
  • allowing marijuana social clubs.

Although the wording of Ballot Measure 2 allows for “local governments” to ban the sales of marijuana, state law does not officially recognize villages, which are prevalent throughout Alaska and are mostly populated with indigenous people. Because of this, villages cannot legally ban marijuana sales.

“Local government includes municipalities, but does not include villages,” MCB Executive Director Cynthia Franklin told NewsMiner.com. “We attempted to write a regulation to say they can opt out like municipalities, but this is an area where we went out of bounds…. They left villages out.”

The board will ask the legislature to allow villages and unincorporated municipalities to opt out of marijuana sales.

As marijuana sales are still illegal in Alaska until a proper system can be established, many marijuana businesses remain illegal. Obviously, you cannot open a dispensary, but the question of whether or not marijuana clubs are legal is still a grey area for many citizens.

Prior to the appointment of the MCB members, Franklin sent a cease and desist letter to six marijuana business, four of which were marijuana clubs. At these marijuana clubs, people pay a small fee to become “members,” after which they are allowed to consume and share marijuana on the premises.

The owners of these establishments believe that they are operating within the law since no money is being exchanged for marijuana; however, the state does not see it the same way. At their meeting, the MCB sided with Franklin’s interpretation of the law, but they unanimously voted in favor of petitioning the legislature to allow for such establishments to exist.

In a concession to existing marijuana clubs, Franklin said that her agency would not take action against them between now and the board’s next meeting in August.

Sadly, the final two issues addressed at the MCB meeting produced fewer results.

On the question on how to distinguish between legal home grows and illegal grow sites, the board simply voted to ask the legislature to continue the conversation. Likewise, the board voted to implore the legislature to continue discussing whether or not to take marijuana off the state’s list of controlled substances.

The board also released the controversial next set of marijuana regulations, which will be open for public comment from July 7 through Aug. 8.

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