Pubdate: Wed, 28 Jan 2015
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2015 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Suzanna Caldwell


With legal possession of recreational marijuana only four weeks away, 
the Anchorage Assembly unanimously approved an ordinance making it 
illegal to consume it in a public place.

The ordinance Tuesday established rules on consuming the substance in 
a public place, a provision outlined in Ballot Measure 2 which made 
such an act strictly illegal and subject to fines.

The ordinance -- a blend of the city's alcohol and tobacco 
prohibitions -- made clear the definition of a public place and 
stipulated the fines associated with violating the law. Those caught 
consuming marijuana in public will face a fine of $100 under the 
ordinance, the same fee outlined in Ballot Measure 2. Anchorage 
Police Chief Mark Mew noted that the fee was a civil, not criminal 
citation, similar to a traffic ticket.

Personal use provisions of the initiative go into effect Feb. 24. On 
that day it will be legal to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and 
six plants, three of which can be mature. Sales will still be 
prohibited until the state sets up a permitting system through the 
regulation, a nine-month process that begins when the initiative goes 
in to effect.

Mew testified to the Assembly that it was important to get the law on 
the books before the ballot measure goes in to effect and before the 
state completes its own rules.

"Trying to cure it down the road will be much worse unless we set the 
standard from the beginning," he said. "We don't want to educate 
(the) public that we can't enforce it by our inaction and try to get 
it back six months from now."

Despite the clear provisions in the initiative, the measure drew 
testimony mostly in opposition. Many had concerns over what 
constituted a public place and whether that would effect consumption 
in "cannabis cafes" or other businesses hoping to sell marijuana.

Joanne Henning, representing the Alaska Cannabis Association, had 
concerns over where people would go to use the substance, 
specifically tourists. If there cannot be cannabis cafes, similar to 
bars, she wondered where people would go to use it?

"We voted to control it like alcohol; we want a safe place to consume 
it like alcohol," she testified.

But under the proposed ordinance, permitted facilities could allow 
patrons to consume marijuana.

Confusion stemmed from groups who voiced concerns that the issue of 
"public" was too broad. Bruce Schulte, spokesman for the Coalition 
for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, noted concerns over a specific 
section of the city's alcohol laws allowing permitted facilities to 
be exempt from the public consumption prohibition.

When asked during Assembly debate why that portion was left out, 
Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler said it was intentionally left out 
because his office felt the issue was covered in another section of 
the ordinance. He said his office did not think having it reiterated 
was "good drafting."

Assemblyman Patrick Flynn suggested adding the section back in to 
parallel the alcohol laws in an effort to not add any additional 
confusion. He said not having it could lead to inconsistencies from the courts.

The Assembly approved the amendment, though Wheeler maintained his position.

"It's redundant and unnecessary, but legally speaking it does no good 
or no harm," Wheeler said.

After its passage, Schulte admitted the issue of public consumption 
was a tough one, but that he was pleased with the Assembly's outcome 
and pleased they had lined up the marijuana provisions with alcohol.

"It's an excess of caution," he said. "But let's have parity."

The ordinance is the second to come through the Anchorage Assembly 
since Ballot Measure 2 passed in November. Just weeks after the 
measure passed, Assemblywoman Amy Demboski introduced an ordinance 
that would have banned commercial marijuana sales in Anchorage, 
another provision allowed under the initiative. After four hours of 
testimony largely against the measure, the ordinance was voted down 9-2.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom