Pubdate: Fri, 16 Jan 2015
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2015 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Zaz Hollander


PALMER -- Tracking with the Valley's farm roots and small business 
spirit, entrepreneurial drive and agriculture dominated a crowded 
marijuana forum in Palmer Thursday night.

At least 150 people turned out for the packed but civil work session 
hosted by the four mayors in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The 
officials told the crowd they wanted feedback as they craft local 
strategies from taxes to business regulations and work with 
legislators on statewide policy.

Many in attendance urged them to let legitimate pot businesses thrive 
in a fair taxation atmosphere that replaces the borough's humming black market.

The Valley is already world-renowned for its marijuana, one audience 
member noted. Another tossed out some big albeit unsourced numbers.

"I can't tell you how many people are growing pot here in Alaska, but 
judging from the quality of pot that I see, I'm going to guess that a 
good bit of the 20 tons of marijuana smoked in Alaska is grown right 
here," said Keith Searles, author of the blog. "If 
that's the case, there's at least 1,000 people surreptitiously 
growing top-quality dope here in the Mat-Su."

Sarah Williams said she's the CEO of a new company called Midnight 
Greenery that hopes to settle in Wasilla as a "seed to sale" facility 
- -- cultivation, production and dispensing.

Wasilla insurance agent Jason Spracher was already working the crowd 
in expectation of cannabis entrepreneurs springing up around the 
Mat-Su to handle production, manufacturing, distribution and security.

"If anybody wants any help setting up their business, please give me 
a call," he said, to laughter. "I know it is a business pitch, but at 
the same time, you guys have to think about it from a legitimate 
business standpoint."

A number of people told the officials they want a local preference 
that gives Alaskans first crack at the state's fledgling industry 
growing and selling cannabis for recreational, medical and industrial markets.

"We are a state that didn't vote this in because we wanted to bring 
in Outside entrepreneurs," Williams said. "We wanted to grow from the inside."

She, like a number of others, pressed for a contaminant testing 
requirement and permitting of grow operations several months ahead of 
dispensaries to avoid supply bottlenecks like those in Washington state.

Some in the crowd were more cautious about the Valley's latest 
potential cash crop.

A number of people urged the local officials to make sure edible 
marijuana candies or cookies carry child warning labels. Some 
wondered if their jobs could be threatened by secondhand smoke that 
turns up in drug tests.

Yukon Tanner, a power theft investigator with Matanuska Electric 
Association, recommended special inspections to cut down on power theft.

"We collected as much as $278,000 from one individual who had a 
grow," Tanner said.

But Bruce Schulte, spokesman for the pro-initiative Coalition for 
Responsible Cannabis Legislation, countered that power theft should drop.

New regulations done right will "allow black market operations to 
move their $100 million-plus industry to a regulated legitimate 
business model," Schulte said.

The idea of differentiating cannabis bound for recreational and 
medicinal markets also came up throughout the night. Advocates for 
medical marijuana pressed for a lower tax rate.

Palmer counselor Susan Whitefeather said she supports lower tax rates 
for medical marijuana but not differentiation by chemical makeup. 
Research is a "moving target" on which of the five known alkaloids in 
marijuana have what effects on medical patients, Whitefeather said. 
"Trying to be chemists and medical professionals about it isn't 
probably going to serve out best interests in the long term."

Several people told the mayors they were medical marijuana users but 
Alaska makes it almost impossible for them to get their medicine. A 
Houston resident said she went without it for six months last year 
after Alaska State Troopers seized her plants.

Several people pressed for the separation of industrial hemp into a 
totally different category.

"This part of the state is uniquely set up to capitalize on that 
commodity," Schulte said.

The Mat-Su as a whole voted down Ballot Measure 2, the initiative 
that legalizes marijuana for recreational use next month and retail 
sales next year, though voters in the cities of Palmer and Houston 
backed it. Voters in Wasilla didn't.

The borough Assembly will discuss a draft resolution addressing the 
Mat-Su stance on marijuana regulation at a regular meeting Tuesday 
night. Assembly member Jim Sykes has also proposed another resolution 
calling for the creation of a new Marijuana Advisory Committee.

Local governments like the borough will have the power to prohibit or 
adopt regulations governing marijuana cultivation and manufacturing 
facilities, as well as retail stores and testing facilities.

The initiative established only a framework for legalization, Sykes' 
resolution notes.

There is still a lot of uncertainty about what laws the state will roll out.

What role will unorganized boroughs play? Sykes asked the mayors 
Thursday night. If contaminant testing becomes law, how will growers 
in Tununak or Arctic Village get their product to a lab?

"I believe we do need a lot of advice," he said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom