Pubdate: Thu, 03 Mar 2016
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2016 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Zaz Hollander


WASILLA -- Marijuana entrepreneurs in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, 
the state's reputed pot-growing capital, will have little time to get 
up and running before voters decide whether or not to back a commercial ban.

The borough assembly on Tuesday night delayed a decision on a new 
permitting system for marijuana businesses. But it's the combination 
of the state's licensing schedule and a pending ballot initiative to 
be decided in early October that's causing the time crunch.

Pot-related companies will probably be selling products for a few 
weeks at best before Mat-Su residents vote Oct. 4 on a proposal to 
outlaw commercial marijuana operations -- grows, testing labs, retail 
dispensaries -- throughout the borough except for those involving 
industrial hemp. The vote applies to all areas outside the cities of 
Palmer, Wasilla and Houston; Palmer and Wasilla already have bans in place.

The state Marijuana Control Board isn't expected to start approving 
cultivation and testing licenses until June, with retail and product 
manufacturing facility approval not anticipated until September.

Realistically, that means the first green offerings won't be on the 
shelves until less than a month before the election and processed 
items like edibles or concentrates perhaps not until a few days 
before at the earliest.

Mat-Su Borough Attorney Nick Spiropoulos told the assembly during a 
meeting Tuesday night that his office has received several notices 
from the state about license filings from businesses in the Valley 
and wants to make sure they're aware of the prohibition being 
considered in the election.

"It's going to be our legal position that you do not get grandfather 
rights for a criminal act," Spiropoulos said.

At least some Mat-Su business owners are planning to open early with 
non-cannabis products.

But a lot of others are having trouble finding investors willing to 
front the startup funds given the uncertain climate in the Valley, 
said Sara Williams, CEO of a company called Midnight Greenery, who 
also serves as chair of the borough's marijuana advisory committee. 
Williams said Midnight Greenery does plan to open early, though she's 
struggling to find a location.

"A lot of people are waiting," she said. "Or they're flocking to Houston."

Houston residents last year voted to allow commercial marijuana 
production and sales. But last November, the council passed a 
moratorium on accepting and processing business licenses until local 
laws can be adopted. The moratorium extends through November unless 
it's repealed sooner.

Meanwhile, any local regulations on the borough level remain in flux.

The borough assembly on Tuesday delayed action on a new permit 
process for marijuana cultivation and retail businesses. The assembly 
continued until March 15 a public hearing on an ordinance calling for 
a conditional-use permit that, among other things, would require 
businesses to stay 1,000 feet away from schools and churches and also 
100 feet back from streets, sidewalks and property lines.

Boroughwide ban initiative backer and former borough mayor Larry 
DeVilbiss has asked the assembly to make any regulations effective 
after the election.

Several people looking to open marijuana businesses urged the 
assembly not to put off implementation, saying they want to 
demonstrate to the public what legal pot looks like before they head 
to the polls.

"We're going to knowingly take this risk," said Joe McAneney, who's 
planning a retail store in Talkeetna. "Because without it we're going 
to have nothing to show for the people that might be on the fence or 
might not be convinced yet."

The setback provision proposed as an amendment to regulations 
triggered opposition from numerous people testifying at Tuesday 
night's hearing, during which two presenters brought marijuana or 
edibles to the podium when they spoke -- one a container of buds and 
the other, Williams said, a package of blue-raspberry lozenges.

Borough planners say the property setback reflects the borough's lack 
of zoning.

The original recommendations came from the borough marijuana advisory 
committee that then passed through the planning commission for 
approval. Planning commissioners said they specifically wanted to 
keep cannabis businesses out of residential areas, according to Alex 
Strawn, the borough's development services manager.

The borough is unique in its lack of zoning in the form of commercial 
or industrial areas, Strawn told the assembly Tuesday. "We don't have 
that luxury."

Planning staff developed the setback to keep cultivation facilities, 
which tend to trigger odor complaints, out of residential areas, he said.

Clint Tuma testified Tuesday that a Willow property he bought in 
October was the only one that met state requirements between Wasilla 
and Talkeetna for the state marijuana cultivation and concentrate 
manufacturing licenses he's applied for. Tuma said he built according 
to state regulations but the proposed borough setback came as a surprise.

"The only thing I can't meet is that 100-foot property line," he 
said. "I think it's just completely ridiculous when you're in a rural 
area to have to come up with these kind of restrictions."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom