Anchorage Rejects Marijuana Ban

Whether you knew it or not, the cannabis industry came dangerously close to losing a sizable portion of its market this week. On December 16, 2014, the Anchorage Assembly convened to hear public opinion and subsequently vote on a proposed bill that would ban the sale of recreational marijuana in Anchorage, Alaska.

The bill was introduced by Amy Demboski, assembly member, and prospective mayoral candidate. According to Demboski, the bill is not meant to abolish cannabis sales but rather adopt a “wait and see” approach to the process.

“The city of Anchorage isn’t going to be the guinea pig for commercial marijuana in Alaska,” Demboski told Alaska Dispatch. “We’re going to step back and see how regulations are developed and then going to make a decision to opt in or out,” she added.

Unfortunately for Demboski, the rest of her fellow assembly members did not agree with her. Several hours after the public hearing, the Anchorage Assembly voted 9-2 to allow the sale of recreational marijuana.

One of the reasons why the assembly voted against the proposed measure was simple pragmatism. Speaking with Alaska Dispatch, Assembly Member Bill Starr explained why he voted against the bill. “I’m fearful the message on ‘opt out’ will send key legislators in Anchorage to the sidelines. That will make my work harder.”

If the assembly had voted in favor of banning marijuana sales, that would have left Anchorage legislators out of the bargaining room when Alaska begins setting regulations for the industry. No matter where you stand on cannabis, it makes little sense to take yourself out of the discussion. The Anchorage Assembly understood the implications, while Demboski did not.

It was a good thing that the Anchorage Assembly voted down the proposed ban. Anchorage is home to nearly half of Alaska’s population; if the ban had passed, Alaska would more or less lose half of its recreational marijuana market. In the wake of Congress stymieing D.C.’s recreational market, losing Anchorage would be a blow that would significantly slow much of the  momentum that the cannabis industry has built up in 2014.

This brief ban flirtation serves to underscore the impending battle that is to be had over Alaska’s recreational marijuana market. Although Alaska passed recreational marijuana with 52 percent of the vote, that other 48 percent will still have a voice in regulation.

As a result, that may mean more legislators and regulators like Demboski trying to slow down or stop the legalization process altogether. There used to be a time when elections had consequences, but in the wild west of contemporary politics, winning the argument is more important that honoring the will of the voters.

By rejecting the ban on recreational marijuana sales, Alaska has passed its first test in the challenging regulatory process. While we may not know how the market will take shape, small victories like this will help give investors more confidence in its potential.

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