Pubdate: Wed, 17 Dec 2014
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2014 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Suzanna Caldwell


An ordinance that would have banned commercial marijuana in Anchorage 
failed after four hours of public testimony and debate in Assembly 
chambers Tuesday night.

The Assembly voted 9-2 just after 10 p.m. to kill the measure. Only 
members Amy Demboski and Paul Honeman supported the measure.

Demboski introduced the proposal last month, hoping the city would 
take a "wait and see approach" as state lawmakers craft marijuana regulations.

But several Assembly members expressed concern that a ban would 
disconnect them from conversations regarding marijuana regulations at 
the state level.

"I'm fearful the message on 'opt out' will send key legislators in 
Anchorage to the sidelines," said Assemblyman Bill Starr. "That will 
make my work harder."

Demboski said her goal in bringing the legislation forward was not to 
stifle pot in Anchorage, but to begin to move the conversation 
forward on big topics dealing with the substance, including potential 
issues at the federal level. She noted it will especially be 
important to engage with Alaska's congressional delegation on how to 
mitigate potential federal impacts.

"It's bringing the conversation forward," Demboski said.

Bruce Schulte, with the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis 
Legislation, said he was surprised to see the Assembly kill the 
measure, noting that co-sponsor Dick Traini ultimately voted against 
it. Still, he said, it was good to get the public talking about 
potential impacts of marijuana legalization.

"The most resounding message is that we still have a lot of work 
ahead," Schulte said.

In hours of testimony in the Assembly chambers at Z.J. Loussac Public 
Library, most people spoke in opposition to the ordinance. Medical 
marijuana cardholders wept at the struggle of trying to get their 
medicine illegally. Many worried about city finances and said the 
Assembly should not shy away from new revenue in the form of taxable 
marijuana sales. Some mentioned distrust of officials for considering 
circumventing Alaska voters' wishes.

Newly elected Assembly chair Traini kept the roughly 75 people who 
testified on track, making sure they stuck to their three-minute 
allotted time on AO-148. Traini quickly stifled occasional cheers and 
claps from the audience.

In November, Alaskans by a margin of 53 to 47 percent voted to 
approve Ballot Measure 2, an initiative legalizing recreational 
marijuana in the state. Just weeks after the measure passed, Assembly 
member and mayoral candidate Demboski introduced the ordinance that 
would allow Anchorage to take advantage of the "opt out" provision of 
the measure, which allows communities to ban commercial marijuana. 
Assembly members Traini and Paul Honeman also backed the measure.

Demboski, who represents Eagle River on the Assembly, said before 
public testimony she had heard from many in her community about the 
ordinance. Some personally thanked her, she said, and one person even 
approached her in an Eagle River coffee shop and hugged her for 
introducing the resolution.

But she had also heard from the other side, she said, mostly in 
emails from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol in 
Alaska. The group moved swiftly to work against the ordinance, 
encouraging people via social media to come to the Assembly meeting 
and encouraging them to contact individual Assembly members.

"I'm a cautious person," Demboski said. "There's just a lot we don't know yet."

Deborah Williams, who served as a spokesperson for the campaign 
opposing Ballot Measure 2, said in testimony Tuesday that she sensed 
hypocrisy in proponents of the measure, who emphasized the local 
option for communities but seemed to back away from it during the 
ordinance debate.

"There were lots of promises during the campaign," she said, noting 
rhetoric about regulation of things like marijuana advertising, 
edibles and butane hash oil. "This gives you bargaining power for the 
Legislature," she said of the proposed city ban.

Jeff Jessee, who also worked on the campaign, worried that there's so 
much unknown with regulations that it makes sense to stop marijuana 
before it gets going.

"We need to temper expectations that it will be open season for this 
industry in Anchorage," Jessee testified.

But June Pittman-Unsworth, one of several medical marijuana patients 
who ended up in tears while testifying, said she has no legal way to 
get it and has no ability to grow it herself.

"The state failed me -- don't let the city fail me," Pittman-Unsworth 
said. "This ordinance is premature and open-ended. There's no date on 
when to comply. I want you to think about that."

Rev. Michael Burke of Common Sense on Marijuana in Alaska, a group of 
business and faith leaders looking to have a voice in the regulatory 
process, asked the city to hold off on the ordinance, saying it did 
not pass the "red face" test and said he worries voters will be 
cynical of leaders because the ordinance is coming so soon after the 
initiative was passed.

Burke said his group and others would work to make sure that 
responsible regulation is enacted, including addressing issues with 
treatment, safety and keeping businesses small.

"There is a lot at stake here in getting the regulations right," Burke said.
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