Pubdate: Thu, 24 Sep 2015
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2015 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Devin Kelly


When selling and manufacturing marijuana is legal in Anchorage, where 
will pot cultivation facilities and marijuana retail shops appear? 
What type of advertising will be allowed? When will the businesses 
open and close?

These are the types of questions now confronting Anchorage city 
officials, five months before the state of Alaska will receive the 
first license applications for marijuana businesses.

For months, officials have been examining rules in other cities, 
particularly in Colorado, and drafting regulations. Now, Anchorage 
Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has formed an internal group to work through 
what the administration sees as the six biggest issues, according to 
City Attorney Bill Falsey.

Those six big issues are: licensing; land use; criminal law; public 
health and edibles; policies for municipal employees; and revenue, or 
the question of taxation. The administration has selected a lead 
person for each of the six different areas of focus, and Falsey said 
formal internal meetings began last week. Proposals are expected to 
be presented to the Anchorage Assembly committee that is evaluating 
the regulation and taxation of the cultivation, manufacture and 
commercial sale of marijuana; the committee has been holding meetings 
since December.

The effort comes as the state Marijuana Control Board works to adopt 
state regulations by the end of November. Falsey said the 
administration is planning to have local regulations in place by Feb. 
24. That date marks the start of the 90-day window where the first 
applications will be processed to meet the ballot initiative's May 
deadline for initial licensing decisions.

Falsey said his office is also pulling together laws and policies 
passed by other cities, and putting them in front of policymakers to 
help guide the process.

"We can take advantage of the fact that while we're on the vanguard 
here, we're not first," Falsey said.

Except in the criminal law category, no draft regulations have yet 
been introduced, though officials said ordinances should start 
appearing within the next two months. But some key policy decisions 
are taking shape. For example, the city's elected officials appear to 
be interested in limiting pot grows in residential areas, and in 
developing a separate city license for marijuana businesses.

Local control

Cynthia Franklin, director of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control 
board, said the state will be leaving questions of where marijuana 
businesses can be located up to local government. The main 
requirement is that the local rules can't be less restrictive than 
the minimum rules ultimately set by the state. The regulations are 
still being drafted and due to completed by Nov. 24, the timeline set 
forth in the 2014 ballot initiative, Franklin said.

"The thing for everybody to understand is that we're working off 
long-established precedent of alcohol of local government being able 
to establish zoning rules around these types of establishments," 
Franklin said. The state won't approve a license that violates local 
rules, she said.

She added that in addition to Anchorage, communities around the state 
have formed committees to tackle local regulatory issues. Those 
include the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the Matanuska-Susitna 
Borough and the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

In the last several months, the Anchorage Assembly has passed new 
criminal laws relating to marijuana, such as requiring Anchorage 
drivers to keep cannabis in the trunk of their car. Those laws were 
aimed at quickly closing loopholes or aligning the city's laws with 
the new state statute, which legalized the personal use, possession 
and cultivation of marijuana, said city prosecutor Seneca Theno.

Theno said the next step from a criminal law perspective will be 
policy decisions, such as whether to amend the city's 
driving-under-the-influence laws. But she said those discussions will 
depend on the action of the Alaska Legislature in the upcoming session.

In the other arenas, Falsey said the city is tracking the progress on 
the regulation of edibles and manufacturing methods at the state 
level. He also said he expects proposals for city policies on 
marijuana use for its employees and for revenue and potential 
taxation to come before the Assembly marijuana regulation committee 
"in short order."

Meanwhile, some of the largest questions surround land use and 
licensing, or the regulations that will determine the appearance, 
hours and location of businesses and cultivation centers. Amanda 
Moser, deputy city clerk, and Erika McConnell, director of the city's 
current planning division, have been working together closely on the 
issue for months, ever since they and other officials took a January 
trip to Boulder, Colorado, to examine marijuana regulations there.

Retail and residential

At a committee meeting with Assembly members in early September, 
McConnell ran through a slew of questions that she's run into while 
drafting proposed land-use regulations.

Should commercial pot grows be allowed in residential areas? Should 
the Assembly have to approve marijuana licenses, like most alcohol 
licenses? What should the distance be between marijuana 
establishments and schools, child care facilities, churches and 
correctional facilities? What about allowing retail marijuana shops downtown?

McConnell got some questions answered quickly. Assembly members 
agreed that retail marijuana shops should be allowed downtown, just 
as bars are allowed downtown. There was also interest in expanding 
the list of places where a certain separation distance will be 
required. The state's draft regulations include a required distance 
of 200 feet between marijuana establishments and facilities providing 
services to children, such as schools or day cares; buildings where 
religious services are conducted; and correctional facilities. The 
Assembly could decide to add other restrictions.

"Personally, I don't think there should be a pot shop next to a gun 
shop," Assembly member Amy Demboski said during the meeting.

Assembly members have not yet weighed in on the topic of allowing 
social clubs, saying the city should wait until the state adopts its 
own regulations. If the state outlaws social clubs, as has been 
proposed, the city can't make them legal, said Assembly member Ernie 
Hall, the chair of the Assembly's marijuana taxation and regulation committee.

It also remains to be seen whether Anchorage would allow a proposed 
"limited" license for businesses with fewer than 500 square feet of 
cannabis plants.

On the big-picture topic of commercial pot cultivation, however, 
McConnell said she walked away from the meeting with a consensus.

"The comments from Assembly members made it relatively clear ... that 
they support limiting grow operations in residential areas," McConnell said.

That means the regulations will likely seek to restrict large 
commercial pot cultivation operations to areas zoned for industrial 
uses, a demand that the city included in a recent assessment of 
Anchorage's industrial land. The assessment found that demand for 
Anchorage industrial space for pot manufacturing will range from 
about 400,000 to 514,000 square feet of industrial warehouse building 
space, or between about 40 to 50 acres of industrial land.

New industrial spaces may be built to accommodate a local commercial 
grow industry, and most of the city's vacant industrial land is 
located in Chugiak-Eagle River. But Tom Davis, a city planner, wrote 
in an email that it's actually more likely that the marijuana 
industry will look for existing industrial spaces for financial 
reasons, based on trends in cities like Denver.

"Denver's experience has been that the marijuana industry has 
strongly preferred low-cost, existing industrial space," Davis wrote 
in the email.

A local license

At the same time, Moser, the deputy city clerk, is working on a local 
license for marijuana establishments. She said she's been reading 
through the draft state regulations to find places where the Assembly 
may want to decide on more restrictive requirements.

As McConnell did earlier this month, Moser plans to gather feedback 
from Assembly members on licensing-related questions at a Thursday 
Assembly committee meeting. Whether there should be a limited number 
of marijuana establishment licenses available, whether the Assembly 
should require inspections of the facilities and whether fines should 
be introduced for violations are among the issues Moser said she 
plans to bring up.

There are comparisons between the evolving marijuana licensing 
process and the licensing of local alcohol establishments. Anchorage 
does not issue its own alcohol licenses, and Moser said that has 
sometimes made it more difficult to crack down on problem operators. 
She said that's part of the reason the city is interested in 
developing a dual licensing system when it comes to marijuana.

"With liquor licenses, there's been times where we've run into 
challenges with operators, and it's not always been easy to address 
those concerns," Moser said. A local license would allow city code 
enforcement officers to inspect businesses and verify that local laws 
are being followed, Moser said. She added that she wasn't yet sure 
what form a license revocation or suspension would take.

Franklin, the director of the state alcohol control board as well as 
the marijuana board, observed that there are long-standing tensions 
between state and local government when it comes to alcohol 
regulation. She said she doesn't expect that to change.

"That tension is age-old, and will continue to exist and follow us 
into marijuana," Franklin said.

Moser said her goal is to start introducing draft ordinances within 
the next two months, though she added that it's challenging when the 
state's regulations are also still in draft form. She said Assembly 
members do want there to be plenty of time for public feedback.

Hall, the chair of the Assembly subcommittee on marijuana regulation, 
said he's pleased with the progress the city is making so far.

"When marijuana becomes legal for people to do business ...we're 
going to be ready," Hall said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom