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


More than 500 people from 38 states packed a conference center just 
outside Denver on Wednesday for a crash course in "lessons learned" 
when it comes to marijuana legalization.

Of the 500, 40 claim Alaska as home. They include members of local 
governments from Fairbanks and Anchorage as well as members of state 
government who in less than six weeks will begin making marijuana rules.

The conference, "Marijuana Impact on Public Health and Safety in 
Colorado," is hosted by the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police. 
A contingent of Alaska officials on Tuesday also toured several 
marijuana businesses in the Denver area, coordinated by the law firm 
Vicente Sederberg, which specializes in marijuana legalization.

Partner and founding member Brian Vicente said the tour sites 
included marijuana grows and facilities that make edibles. The law 
firm often leads such tours, he said, in an effort to help people 
understand the effects of legalization.

"At the end of the day, Colorado's law and Alaska's law are very 
similar," Vicente said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "... I 
think perhaps it's a glimpse into the future for those Alaskans that 
were able to come down here and see how regulated marijuana works."

Vincente said he hoped the tour offered a counterpoint to the law 
enforcement conference. He was critical of organizers, noting law 
enforcement has consistently opposed marijuana legalization.

"I think there is absolutely a degree of bias (at the conference)," 
Vicente said. "We think its important regulators meet with a diverse 
set of stakeholders, and law enforcement is an important voice, but 
when you have people who have opposed and imprisoned people over 
marijuana, it's tough to say you'll get correct information out of 
that meeting."

The conference, which costs $325 per person, is open only to law 
enforcement personnel, regulators and policymakers. Media and the 
public aren't allowed in the sessions, which run through Friday. The 
conference sold out, with only a waiting list available Wednesday 
morning, according to Marco Vasquez, chief of police in Erie, 
Colorado, and marijuana director for the Colorado Association of 
Chiefs of Police. He is also the former chief of investigations for 
the Colorado Department of Revenue's medical marijuana enforcement division.

A spokesperson for the conference said the audience was limited 
because some of the information presented involves ongoing law 
enforcement actions and other information that cannot be shared with 
the public.

Vasquez, who helped plan the conference, said he and about a 
half-dozen other police chiefs approached the conference with a 
"lessons-learned approach." He said the goal is to share what 
Colorado officials have learned so far about marijuana legalization 
in the state.

"Whatever is going to happen with marijuana legalization, you don't 
necessarily want to be the first, but that's what happened with 
Colorado," Vasquez said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "Alaska can 
now really benefit from some of our lessons and do things better than 
we did, simply because they are able to learn from our experience."

Vasquez said he was proud of some of the things the state did right, 
but there were other areas he felt needed work. Better data 
collection, especially in public health and safety, would help, he said.

He also noted Colorado's Amendment 64, which legalized recreational 
marijuana, had a built-in timeline he described as "strict." Alaska's 
Ballot Measure 2 also includes a strict timeline, giving the state 
nine months to craft rules after the ballot initiative goes into 
effect Feb. 24. Vasquez said that makes it difficult for government 
to respond, especially when there's limited funding. He suggested 
Alaska officials slow the timetable as much as possible, though he 
added marijuana supporters would undoubtedly disagree, saying they 
wanted it done "yesterday."

"There are a lot of moving parts (in the regulatory process) and if 
you're rushed and don't have adequate resources and don't have 
adequate funding you're creating a recipe for where you may fail," Vasquez said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom