Pubdate: Thu, 27 Aug 2015
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2015 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Zaz Hollander


WASILLA -- Residents in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough cities of 
Palmer and Houston will get to vote in October on whether they want 
to make commercial cannabis operations illegal.

Alaskans approved Ballot Measure 2 last fall to legalize recreational 
marijuana use. Commercial operations will become legal statewide in 
May 2016, when permits for marijuana businesses are expected to be granted.

The overall vote in Mat-Su, widely viewed as Alaska's most productive 
marijuana-growing region, was narrowly against legalization. But 
voters in Palmer and Houston, as well as other unincorporated 
communities, actually favored it.

Now Palmer and Houston both have initiatives on the October ballot 
for local elections that aim to ban marijuana cultivation, 
manufacturing and testing facilities and retail stores.

The city of Wasilla, where voters narrowly opposed legalization, does 
not. That's because the city clerk denied the initiative petition on 
the grounds it didn't meet ballot requirement language restricting 
initiatives from addressing something that's already regulated, 
officials say. Wasilla's city council approved new marijuana 
regulations earlier this year.

A separate, boroughwide initiative failed to gather the 1,098 
signatures outside the cities required to make this year's ballot, 
according to the borough clerk. Initiative backers have until Sept. 8 
to gather enough signatures to make next year's ballot.

Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss had a hand in both city initiatives. 
DeVilbiss is running for re-election against Willow's Vern Halter, a 
sitting Assembly member. He is the alternate sponsor of the Palmer 
initiative and connected the sponsor of the Houston measure, Scott 
Thompson, with the group that drafted initiative language for both.

Thompson said he knows, at least on paper, Houston voters backed 
legalization by a wide margin. But petition backers had no trouble 
gathering more than enough signatures to get the initiative on the 
ballot, he said. "None at all. In fact, we got more signatures by 25 
percent than we needed."

Thompson, ministry director at Faith Recovery Fellowship in Wasilla, 
works as a prison chaplain and said he sees firsthand the effects of 
substance abuse.

"Any substance that alters a person's personality or ability to 
reason is counterproductive to our society," he said. "It's hard for 
me to rationalize legalizing a substance on the basis of monetary 
gain, no matter what community it's in."

The Mat-Su, like many jurisdictions in Alaska, is trying to develop 
local regulations in areas like taxation or land use for commercial 
operations and future retail sales. The borough formed a 17-member 
advisory committee to advise the Assembly as they begin developing 
regulations. Several Assembly members and people on the committee 
have said the initiative efforts undermine the will of the people and 
negate the work spent on regulation.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom