Demboski proposes muni ban on marijuana industry

Tuesday, November 25, 2014 - 23:00
A home-grown marijuana plant, Nov. 2012. Alaska voters passed Ballot Measure 2, an act to regulate marijuana like alcohol, on Nov. 4. Anchorage Assembly member Amy Demboski proposed an ordinance Nov. 18 to ban commercial marijuana operations within the municipality.

As Amy Demboski, the Eagle River-Chugiak representative on Anchorage Assembly, sat at Jitters Coffee Shop to interview about her proposed ordinance to ban commercial marijuana, she had to rise to greet a constituent who came up to her.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” the woman said, hugging Demboski and telling her she was glad Demboski had proposed the ban.

The ordinance would “prohibit the operation of marijuana cultivation facilities, marijuana product manufacturing facilities, marijuana testing facilities and retail marijuana stores.”

Alaska voters passed Ballot Measure 2, also known as An Act to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, on Nov. 4. Results so far show the measure passed 51 to 49 percent, although as of press time, the results had not yet been certified. Once they are, the decriminalization of possession, transport or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana or up to six immature plants will go into effect within 90 days. The state Legislature has nine months after that to come up with a regulatory framework for the manufacture and retail sale of marijuana products.

Individual communities, however, can opt out of marijuana legalization.

Demboski said she’s heard both negative and positive feedback from constituents on the proposed ordinance, which will have a public hearing Dec. 16. She’s also heard from constituents who voted for Ballot Measure 2 because they didn’t think people should go to jail for using marijuana, but had reservations about moving forward with a legalized commercial marijuana industry.

Before the measure goes into effect, Alaskans still have privacy rights that protect consumption of personal-use marijuana in their homes, which has been upheld by the Alaska Supreme Court. But under the current regime, people can be charged with a Misconduct Involving a Controlled Substance Charge if they’re caught transporting marijuana between private residences, or selling it. When Ballot Measure 2 becomes law, transport and transfer of personal-use marijuana will be legal, but public consumption could garner a $100 fine.

Demboski said she’s not interested in opting Anchorage out of the personal use portions of the law, and that personal use is a private issue. But she doesn’t think moving forward with a legal commercial marijuana industry in Anchorage is something the city is ready for, without knowing more about potential impacts.

“We have the most people, the biggest concentration, and I think our concerns need to be forefront,” she said. “And if our voice isn’t there, and we just sit back and take a passive role, I don’t know that the citizens of Anchorage will get to shape the conversation. And I want them to.”

She said there’s not enough information right now to make a decision on whether commercial marijuana legalization is a good idea for Anchorage.

“I just want to have that discussion,” she said.

Cory Wray, director of the Alaska Cannabis Institute, said he thinks the ordinance violates the spirit and intent of the opt-out clause, which was designed to accommodate dry villages. The Alaska Cannabis Institute hosts ticketed seminars and sells DVDs instructing would-be cannabis entrepreneurs on how to cash in on a future marijuana industry. The company is owned by Washington-based Pacific Sun West, a marketing company Wray co-owns. He said the company’s previous work has been hosting seminars in the finance and real estate industries. Attendees of the institute’s previous two Alaska cannabis seminars numbered about 125 per event, he said, and paid $400 each for access to experts in “federal regulations, how to structure your business, pay your taxes, all that important stuff.” It’s planning another seminar for May 2015.

Assuming Ballot Measure 2’s timetables are met, and the election results are certified as they are expected to be in late November, Alaska could see a legal commercial marijuana industry as early as December 2016.

Wray said the institute would be encouraging people to show up to Assembly’s Dec. 16 public hearing on the ordinance and testify in favor of keeping commercial marijuana legal in the Anchorage municipality, which includes the communities of Eagle River and Chugiak to the north, and Girdwood to the south of Anchorage proper.

Asked why Demboski didn’t introduce an ordinance to study potential impacts on legalizing commercial marijuana based on the examples of Colorado and Washington, if lack of information was her concern, she said she thinks opting out puts Anchorage in a stronger position to negotiate any future marijuana industry regulations on its own terms.

Taylor Bickford, the media contact for the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska campaign, was traveling and unable to interview for this story at press time. Bickford is also a consultant for Demboski’s campaign to be elected mayor in 2016.

Another consultant on her campaign worked for No on 2, Demboski said, and she’s specifically keeping the commercial marijuana question “off the table,” when it comes to her mayoral campaign.


Disclosure: The reporter on this story is also a freelancer for the Anchorage Press, which has sponsored Alaska Cannabis Institute seminars. As a freelancer, the reporter is uninvolved with the Anchorage Press’ activities in partnership with Alaska Cannabis Institute, and had not met its director, Cory Wray, before contacting him for this story.

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