Pubdate: Tue, 18 Nov 2014
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2014 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Suzanna Caldwell


The general election results legalizing marijuana in Alaska haven't 
even been certified yet but one member of the Anchorage Assembly 
wants to make sure the municipality is out front when it comes to 
opting out of the measure.

Assembly member and mayoral candidate Amy Demboski of Eagle River 
plans to introduce an ordinance Tuesday that, if passed, would ban 
commercial marijuana establishments in Alaska's largest city.

The Assembly approved a resolution in September opposing Ballot 
Measure 2; however, there were concerns from the Assembly that it was 
inappropriate to issue an opinion on a ballot measure.

In an interview Monday, Demboski, who has announced she will run for 
mayor in 2015, said the ordinance is not a ban against the personal 
use of marijuana but about a "wait and see" approach to how the state 
decides to implement marijuana regulations.

"The city of Anchorage isn't going to be the guinea pig for 
commercial marijuana in Alaska," she said. "We're going to step back 
and see how regulations are developed and then going to make a 
decision to opt in or out."

Once the election is certified, Ballot Measure 2 goes into effect 90 
days later. From there, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (or a 
marijuana control board, if created by the Legislature) has nine 
months to draft regulations setting up an above-board marijuana 
industry in the state.

Many of those regulations are related to businesses, including 
licensing. According to the ABC board, people interested in applying 
for licenses wouldn't be able to do that until February 2016, with 
the first licenses issued no later than May 2016.

Despite the prolonged timeline, Demboski thinks the city should 
operate under an abundance of caution. Too many unknowns come with 
the rulemaking process, she said. If the Assembly approves the 
ordinance opting out, then they can re-evaluate opting back in once 
the governing body has more information, she said.

"My belief is if you're doing something this important, you need a 
solid foundation before you opt in to it, and to me, the way this 
referendum has passed is backwards," Demboski said. "... I think we 
should develop regulations and then make an educated decision to opt in."

While final ballots are still being tallied, Anchorage approved 
Ballot Measure 2 by a slim margin, 51 percent to 49 percent. Eagle 
River, Chugiak and South Anchorage generally opposed the measure, 
while East, West, downtown and parts of Midtown Anchorage voted in 
favor of legalization.

Jeff Jessee, CEO of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and an 
opponent of Ballot Measure 2, supports Demboski's ordinance. He said 
it gives the industry notice that marijuana businesses would not be 
allowed in the municipality, saving them from potentially investing 
in an industry that won't come to fruition.

Jessee said the problem with the initiative -- and the problem he 
believes Demboski is addressing -- is that the initiative wrapped too 
many elements dealing with marijuana legalization into one package. 
He said he talked to voters who supported elements of the initiative, 
like decriminalizing the substance, but did not agree with the 
commercialization aspects -- himself included. Still, they had to 
vote all or nothing for the measure.

"To say people have spoken on the issue of retail and 
commercialization, I don't think you can say that," Jessee said.

Bruce Schulte, who advocated on behalf of the Campaign to Regulate 
Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska, said it was "premature and 
irresponsible" for the Assembly to consider opting out of the measure 
before the election results had even been certified.

He noted that voters approved the measure and that it makes no sense 
to think that opting out now with the option to reconsider it later 
would be good for the community.

"Opting out now or later won't produce anything beneficial," Schulte 
said. "What it will do is guarantee the continued black market and it 
will guarantee none of the positive goals of Ballot Measure 2 will be 

Schulte added that he's long been a supporter of Demboski but 
questioned what her strategy was in bringing the ordinance. He called 
the politicking behind the measure "suspicious."

"This is far-sighted strategy on her part," Schulte said. "It's 
ill-conceived, premature and impractical. There's nothing positive to 
gain and lot of negative to be expected."

Whether the measure gets much support on the Assembly remains to be 
seen. Five of the 11 Assembly members contacted by Alaska Dispatch 
News Monday -- Bill Evans, Tim Steele, Pete Petersen, Jennifer 
Johnston and Patrick Flynn -- all said the timing of the measure 
seemed early to them. Even if they opposed Ballot Measure 2 or would 
potentially consider opting out of the measure down the line, they 
agreed that waiting to see what regulations the state decides to 
implement is appropriate.

"I would want to see what the state does," said Evans. "The state has 
to go through its process of issuing regulations and implementing 
rules in practical terms. I don't think (opting in or out) is 
something we have to do immediately."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom