Pubdate: Tue, 17 Mar 2015
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2015 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Zaz Hollander


WASILLA -- The mayor of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough wants to put 
bans on commercial marijuana operations to a local vote, potentially 
opening a door to undo parts of Alaska's legalization law in the 
state's pot growing capital.

The proposed resolution goes before the Mat-Su Assembly on Tuesday night.

Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss is seeking Assembly approval of a 
resolution asking local voters if they support prohibitions on four 
sectors of commercial marijuana: retail stores, cultivation 
facilities, manufacturing facilities and testing facilities. If 
approved, the questions would be placed on the Oct. 6 ballot for 
borough residents outside the cities of Palmer, Wasilla and Houston.

"I want the growers to have the opportunity to woo another 5 percent 
of our voters over to their side," DeVilbiss said by phone from his 
Lazy Mountain farm Monday. "You know, it didn't pass out here so I 
don't feel like we have a mandate to instill it."

Statewide voters last November approved the legalization of 
recreational marijuana, including retail sales and commercial grow 
operations and manufacture. But voters in the Mat-Su -- widely known 
as a primary source of high-grade marijuana but also home to a 
conservative base -- narrowly voted against legalization despite 
pockets of support in Palmer, Sutton and Talkeetna.

Personal use of marijuana became legal in Alaska on Feb. 24, but the 
state Legislature is still hammering out the particulars on 
commercial grow operations, testing and sales. Rules are expected to 
take effect beginning in 2016.

Under state law, the mayor's resolution states, local governments can 
prohibit facilities involved in cultivation, product manufacturing 
and testing as well as retail establishments.

Anchorage Assembly member Amy Demboski proposed a preemptive ban on 
commercial marijuana in Anchorage late last year, but that ordinance 
was killed by a 9-2 vote after four hours of public testimony in 
December. The Kenai Peninsula Borough has also been debating banning 
commercial marijuana farms.

DeVilbiss said the initiative could inform future policy decisions by 
breaking down the larger legalization question into those four parts. 
He said he decided to put the resolution on the agenda after hearing 
from several people who want to craft a voter's initiative on 
commercial marijuana operations.

"I said, 'Well, this is something that we can do on the Assembly 
level a lot easier,'" he said. "But I'm doing it with enough time 
(that) it leaves (initiative supporters) time to do it if the 
Assembly doesn't support it."

The proposal is on Tuesday night's consent agenda, normally the place 
for low-interest or housekeeping items clumped together for a quick 
vote. The mayor expects the Assembly to pull it out of that category 
for debate before any vote.

At least one member is already speaking out against it.

Jim Sykes, who represents areas including Lazy Mountain, Butte and 
Sutton, called the resolution ill-advised and premature: The 
Legislature has yet to take any action on commercial operations and 
the mayor himself hasn't even finished appointing members of a new 
borough-level marijuana advisory committee, he said.

Sykes said the proposed ballot questions add nothing to the debate 
beyond what precinct-by-precinct voting results already show and 
could prove less informative, considering that a local election would 
draw substantially fewer voters than the statewide election did.

"If you really wanted to know an answer to get advice on what the 
borough should do you ask a bunch of questions," he said. "It's not 
just conceptual. It's options this would create; if your taxes were 
lowered because marijuana was legal so we could better fund our 
roads, schools, EMS -- that could be part of the question."

DeVilbiss last August joined 22 other members of the Alaska 
Conference of Mayors in voting to oppose the marijuana initiative. He 
said at the time legalization in the Mat-Su would help the thriving 
black market already in place here.

Speaking at a press conference in August, DeVilbiss and Palmer Mayor 
DeLena Johnson voiced concerns about public safety and costs.

Sykes said DeVilbiss didn't have Assembly direction to represent the 
borough on the issue. He also noted that he and borough attorney Nick 
Spiropoulos recently spoke with the attorney in a Colorado county who 
indicated that new taxes helped recoup any municipal costs and 
violent crime dropped.

DeVilbiss is running for re-election this year. Asked if the proposed 
resolution had anything to do with those plans, the mayor said he 
doesn't expect the resolution to help.

"Everyone that wants me to run and wants me to have another term 
tells me that this is political suicide," he said. "It's going to 
bring out probably an element that would be less inclined to vote for me."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom