Pubdate: Wed, 24 Dec 2014
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2014 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Suzanna Caldwell


The Fairbanks North Star Borough will follow Anchorage in forming a 
working group to explore the legalization of marijuana in Alaska and 
the crafting of laws specific to local commercial regulation.

On Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly's new Committee on Regulating and 
Taxing the Cultivation, Manufacture and Commercial Sale of Marijuana 
met briefly to outline how it will work to craft marijuana laws in 
Alaska's largest city.

Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins said he too would 
form a working group to begin crafting ordinances addressing 
legalization to present to the borough assembly. In an interview 
Tuesday, Hopkins said the makeup of the body had not been finalized 
but that it would include community stakeholders and be led by 
borough Community Planning Director Christine Nelson.

Hopkins' announcement comes after a Fairbanks town hall meeting at 
which lawmakers heard community concerns about legalization, which 
Alaska voters approved in November.

"We covered the gamut on it and we will continue to cover the gamut 
all the way from 'heck no' to 'let's get going,'" Hopkins said. "We 
want to be prepared."

In Anchorage, the four-person committee, chaired by West Anchorage 
Assembly member Ernie Hall, will be charged with developing and 
recommending new municipal code regarding marijuana to the Anchorage 
Assembly. It was the first meeting for the group, which gave a short 
update on who they are and what their plans are. That includes 
working with the state Legislature and other rulemaking bodies to 
craft Anchorage marijuana laws.

Hall said the committee would host town halls next year to give the 
public a chance to openly discuss the issue.

They'll also work to communicate with communities in Washington and 
Colorado that are already ahead in plotting marijuana policy, since 
those states voted for legalization in 2012. Todd Sherwood and Seneca 
Theno, municipal attorneys who head up the civil division and 
prosecution section of the Anchorage's law department, will travel to 
Colorado in January for a conference on the effects of legalization 
and bring those findings back to the committee. Sherwood attended 
Tuesday's meeting along with Assembly attorney Julia Tucker and 
Assembly chair Dick Traini.

The first meeting of the group comes a week after the Anchorage 
Assembly heard four hours of testimony on a proposed ordinance that 
would have banned commercial marijuana in the municipality before 
legalization goes into effect at the state level. The measure failed 
9-2, but numerous Assembly members noted in debate that a separate 
committee should be created. The two members who ultimately voted in 
favor of the ordinance -- Amy Demboski and Paul Honeman -- are also 
members of the task force. Neither attended Tuesday's meeting.

Hall said in the Tuesday meeting that the task of coming up with 
marijuana law wouldn't be easy, and he outlined numerous issues the 
city will have deal with, including testing of marijuana, zoning and 
conditional-use permits for marijuana-related businesses, among others.

Hall said members of the committee teleconferenced Monday with Sen. 
Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, who as chair of the Senate Judiciary 
Committee has indicated interest in dealing with marijuana this 
session. Hall also noted that Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, 
would work on the marijuana issue as chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

Hall said he hopes communications between the groups continue through 
the legislative session. What that will look like is unclear.

"The reality is (the Legislature) has more questions than answers, 
and we are definitely at that level ourselves," Hall said.

Pete Petersen, one of the four Assembly members on the committee, 
said that despite the disparate makeup of the group, they would work 
together. He expects intense scrutiny of public leaders as they move 
through the process.

"It's a very visible law passed by the people," he said. "I don't 
think politicians can go against the will of the people."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom