Pubdate: Sun, 07 Dec 2014
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2014 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Suzanna Caldwell


The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has been busy since Alaskans 
voted to legalize marijuana in November. Members have been inundated 
with questions, moving swiftly to provide information to the public 
and working to inform themselves in order to begin crafting marijuana 
rules when the ballot initiative goes into effect in February.

But what kind of work they'll actually have to do remains unclear if 
a bill pending from Sen. Lesil McGuire goes through.

McGuire said Thursday she intends to introduce legislation that would 
create a marijuana control board charged with crafting and 
implementing marijuana rules. McGuire, chair of the Senate Judiciary 
Committee, wants to make it clear that the Legislature will be 
addressing marijuana legalization. With that, she feels the first 
step is creating a separate board to regulate the substance.

The authority to do that is one of the few clear requests Ballot 
Measure 2 specifically makes of the Legislature. However, it only 
indicates that it "may create" the board -- not that it must. Per the 
initiative, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is in charge of 
marijuana unless a new organization is formed. With the board moving 
swiftly, some involved in marijuana legalization find themselves 
mulling whether a separate board should exist.

Taylor Bickford said the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol 
in Alaska is still analyzing the pros and cons of whether to create a 
marijuana control board. Jeff Jessee, CEO of the Alaska Mental Health 
Trust Authority and a volunteer with the group opposing Ballot 
Measure 2, said he has no stance either way on whether the ABC Board 
or a newly created board should handle marijuana rules.

Bruce Schulte said the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis 
Legislation, a group formed to offer insights into the rulemaking 
process, initially wanted to see a separate control board but has 
adjusted that outlook based on the interest he's seen so far from ABC 
Board Director Cynthia Franklin. Schulte said Franklin, a former 
municipal prosecutor, appears well suited to handle the regulatory process.

Schulte said one of the coalition's biggest concerns is ensuring that 
the board is made up of individuals supportive of the marijuana 
industry, whether that's a separate board or an ABC Board with 
additional members who have marijuana experience.

"We just want to see a board that is neutral with regards to 
marijuana, that is interested in having it succeed and composed of 
people of the appropriate background to make that happen," Schulte said.

Jessee said he wants to make sure the industry doesn't have too much 
influence on whatever board exists. He noted that current changes 
being considered for the ABC Board's composition limit the number of 
industry seats that can be on the board. He would like to a see 
similar makeup if a marijuana control board is created.

Franklin has no position on whether her agency or another remains in 
control of marijuana but she did say that there are "pros and cons" 
to both. She noted that other states with legalized marijuana have 
taken different approaches: Colorado has two separate agencies, while 
Washington state's Liquor Control Board handles both marijuana and alcohol.

Pros for keeping it at the ABC Board include an early start. Her 
agency has already begun working on marijuana, an important factor 
since the initiative gives the entity nine months to craft marijuana 
rules. If a new board has to take over, it will take time to get them 
staffed and up to speed.

"There's no way they'll hit those deadlines," Franklin said.

Another pro is that the board already has experience in regulating a 
controlled substance. She worries that a new board, which might not 
have that experience, would be like "the blind leading the blind 
leading the blind."

Cons include potential conflicts of interests with members of the ABC 
Board, especially business members.

"Theoretically, those industries could be competing industries," 
Franklin said. "They might be competing for the same 'altered state' dollars."

Another con? It costs approximately $1.7 million a year to operate 
the ABC Board. Franklin said those costs would likely be "mirrored" 
by a marijuana control board.

McGuire understands those concerns. She noted that tax revenue will 
likely offset those costs but with no clear estimates, it's still a 
question how much revenue the state will earn. It will also be at 
least a year before revenue is collected -- the first business 
licenses won't be issued until 2016.

McGuire said the two substances are "distinctly different" with very 
different issues to consider. She said she hasn't talked to a 
colleague in the Legislature who is not interested in having a 
marijuana control board.

"(Alcohol and marijuana) are not the same the drug; they don't have 
the same considerations. I believe it is an absolute conflict of 
interest to put them together," McGuire said. "It's like asking the 
ABC Board to regulate prescription drugs.

"That's not their expertise, it's not their background. Certainly 
they can travel and go to school and learn about it but they need to 
get up every day and think about alcohol, and they've got their work 
cut out for them on that."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom