Pubdate: Sat, 06 Feb 2016
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2016 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Jim Paulin, Dutch Harbor Fisherman


By a narrow 4-3 vote and with the mayor breaking the tie, the 
Unalaska City Council last week took its first step towards banning 
local sales and commercial growing, testing, and manufacturing of 
marijuana products.

A local activist promised to put the issue on the ballot in the fall 
local election, and to oppose officials supporting a ban. Three seats 
are up for election this year -- two on the council now held by Roger 
Rowland and David Gregory, plus the mayor's.

"Opt out is a cop-out on the voters," said Jerry Swihart, a city 
worker, who said local residents voted heavily in favor of 
legalization in 2014.

But the mayor said the statewide ballot question, while legalizing 
personal possession, gave decision-making power on commercialization 
to the city council. "Members of the public do not have that 
responsibility," Marquardt said.

Council members Frank Kelty, Rowland, and Zoya Johnson and Mayor 
Shirley Marquardt voted to ban commercialization, while Gregory, 
Yudelka Leclere and Alejandro "Bong" Tungul supported locally 
regulated pot sales.

The new ordinance still requires another vote for passage, which is 
set for the Feb. 9 city council meeting.

Gregory said that the city council will lose the ability to regulate 
marijuana businesses, if the council's ban is later overturned by 
voters. "I want to be involved in regulating marijuana," he said. 
Presently, marijuana is sold illegally, without quality control 
measures, and "you don't know what you're going to get if you go to 
the black market," he said.

Opposition to allowing commercial marijuana came from top officials 
of two major local organizations, the Unalaska City School District, 
and the Unalaska Christian Fellowship.

Unalaska City School Superintendent John Conwell opposed 
commercialization, saying it threatens the town's stature as an 
"idyllic," or a picturesque and pleasant community. School business 
manager Holly Holman said it could make the town a less desirable 
place to raise children.

And a school board member who also sits on the city council, Frank 
Kelty, voted for the ban, though he said he agonized over the 
decision and sometimes thought pot sales should be allowed locally. 
"I really struggled with this," said Kelty, a former fish plant 
manager, who worried about the effects of a marijuana store a short 
distance from a fish processing plant which drug tests employees.

But since the last time the council voted on the issue, 
unsuccessfully advising local voters to vote against legalization in 
2014 by a 5-1 vote, city council marijuana support has since tripled.

Unalaska Christian Fellowship Pastor Ron Williams linked longterm 
marijuana use to reduced intelligence quotients, saying it cut IQ by 
about 6 percent. Other UCF officials were also opposed at an earlier 
meeting, including Pastor John Honan and Coe Whittern, an elder at the church.

Rowland -- a founding member of the Aleutian Bible Church -- also 
strongly opposed allowing commercial sales.

Council member Bong Tungul reacted angrily to the vote against 
locally regulated sales, saying after the meeting that "it doesn't 
make any sense." The black market, he said, exposes youth to far more 
dangerous drugs.

This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor 
Fisherman and is republished here with permission.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom