Pubdate: Thu, 15 Jan 2015
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2015 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Zaz Hollander


PALMER -- The Matanuska Valley is Alaska's source of a notorious 
marijuana strain known in polite circles as Matanuska Tundra -- the 
more common name starts with "Thunder" and ends with an F-bomb.

But despite the statewide success of a ballot measure that made 
Alaska one of four states to approve the legalization of recreational 
marijuana, Valley voters in November at best were evenly divided and 
may have narrowly rejected the initiative, according to a 
district-by-district analysis by the borough's attorney.

Now, as state legislators and other policymakers start working on how 
to regulate the nascent industry, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough joins 
communities throughout Alaska trying to get out ahead of legalization 
with a public forum in Palmer on Thursday night.

The Mat-Su Borough mayor says the forum doesn't involve any kind of a 
ban, a tax or other limits.

Instead, Thursday night's event is part of the borough's efforts to 
press state policymakers for clarification on numerous gray areas in 
the voter-approved initiative, Mayor Larry DeVilbiss said Tuesday.

The four Mat-Su mayors -- DeVilbiss and the mayors of Palmer, Wasilla 
and Houston -- will host the forum slated for 6 to 8 p.m. at the 
borough building in Palmer.

"There's been quite a bit of interest in it," DeVilbiss said. "I'm 
kind of hoping it isn't just a crowd of insane people that think it's 
about whether we're going to ban it or not. We're trying to make it 
clear that's not the focus right now."

The forum will help the Mat-Su Borough Assembly craft a resolution 
asking state officials for clarity on numerous aspects of the state's 
budding laws, he said.

A working draft of the three-page resolution includes a request for 
clarification on whether cities within the borough will have 
authority over local commercial regulation as the borough will. Other 
sections wonder if agricultural farm-use tax exemptions will apply to 
growers, or if the state will try to create regulations that 
differentiate among cannabis destined for the recreational, medical 
and industrial markets.

The borough may seek restrictions on packaging that entices minors, 
according to the draft document, which also references a state ban on 
public advertising and a need to solidify just what constitutes a 
public space: a car or pickup? Private baseball fields or smoking 
clubs? The edge of your own property?

The draft resolution also makes a pitch for an Alaska-grown-only 
requirement for any pot grown or sold here, since international 
transport and shipping is illegal, and "to curb the black market 
sales and support Alaskan agriculture and business."

Borough staff will fine-tune the resolution after Thursday's forum to 
reflect public opinion, DeVilbiss said. The Assembly will consider it 
at a meeting next Tuesday night.

A frequently-asked-questions section of the state Alcoholic Beverage 
Control Board website appears to answer some of the borough's other 
questions about how the state plans to measure an ounce of pot and 
whether personal-use amounts apply to an entire household or to each person.

Borough attorney Nick Spiropoulos last month made a presentation to 
the Assembly detailing some early findings about the issues facing 
the borough as legalization rolls toward a day next month when 
personal possession for recreational use becomes legal.

Nothing in the initiative's language bars a local excise tax, 
Spiropoulos pointed out.

He attended a statewide Alaska Municipal League meeting soon after 
the November election and said a number of municipal attorneys said 
their Assembly and council members had asked about the Mat-Su's plans 
for local policies.

"Whatever reasons, that I won't get into, people are waiting to see 
what Mat-Su is going to do," Spiropoulos said last month. 
"Professional colleagues said, 'What are you doing? Let me know. 
We're looking at you guys.'"

Other municipalities are now further along in that process. Anchorage 
is contemplating a ban on marijuana consumption in public places 
after a more general ban failed last month. The Juneau Assembly on 
Monday approved a moratorium on marijuana-related businesses until 
October. Anchorage and the Fairbanks North Star Borough are forming 
pot-specific committees; the Mat-Su is considering one.

The Alaska Municipal League is planning a summit on marijuana at its 
February meeting in Juneau "so we can help provide, especially the 
smaller communities, the questions and the answers that we need," 
executive director Kathie Wasserman said. The summit will include 
representatives from Colorado and Washington, where recreational 
marijuana is already legal, as well as Alaskans such as ABC Board 
head and former Anchorage prosecutor Cynthia Franklin.

The initiative directs the state board to adopt regulations for 
marijuana-related entities and then regulate the new industry, unless 
the Legislature creates a different body. Several state legislators 
are said to be working on marijuana legislation.

At this point, however, it's unclear what form any of those efforts will take.

"Municipalities need to start talking about it," Wasserman said. "It 
would be nice if we wouldn't have to be reactive, but in a way we have to be."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom