Pubdate: Thu, 07 Apr 2016
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (AK)
Copyright: 2016 Fairbanks Publishing Company, Inc.


Gray Area for Social Clubs Could Lead to Patchwork Local Regulation

After the closure of The Higher Calling cannabis club last week, the 
argument over a proposed Fairbanks North Star Borough ordinance that 
would close similar marijuana-related businesses operating without a 
state license may be less heated. But it will still be important, as 
social marijuana clubs now exist in a sort of legal limbo not yet 
addressed under state law. And while the borough certainly could step 
in to regulate that gray area, it's really the state's responsibility 
to clarify the law so that current and prospective operators can know 
whether their businesses are sanctioned. It's a situation that has 
gone unaddressed for too long.

Borough ordinance 2016-22, sponsored by Assemblyman Christopher 
Quist, would bar the operation of businesses that allow the use of 
marijuana without a "valid, current state registration." The measure 
is intended to bar all marijuana businesses operating without 
licenses, but in practice, it would only have applied to The Higher 
Calling, a fact that rubbed that club's proprietors the wrong way and 
made its supporters allege ulterior motives targeting the business 

Ensuring that all marijuana businesses are properly licensed is not a 
bad thing. But there's a bit of a hitch: For marijuana clubs like The 
Higher Calling, in which the drug can be used but isn't grown or 
sold, licenses don't exist. It's not that the club's proprietors and 
those of a handful of other similar establishments around the state 
chose not to get the proper license for their business - they 
couldn't if they had wanted to. There's no law against that sort of 
business and the consumption of marijuana on private property is 
legal, so their situation isn't addressed by the state.

Mr. Quist would like to see the borough address that legal limbo. But 
if there is to be uniformity across Alaska instead of a patchwork of 
inconsistent local regulations, the decision about whether or not 
such clubs can operate should be made at the state level. Since the 
state is the licensing authority and has already laid out procedures 
for licensing for retail and cultivation-related marijuana 
businesses, it's only logical that the state make the call about 
whether marijuana clubs should be legal and licensed as well.

The other half of Mr. Quist's ordinance - that the borough be 
established as a local regulatory authority on marijuana license 
applications - is entirely sensible. As with alcohol licensing, it's 
a good idea for the borough to have a role in the licensing of 
marijuana businesses, and to serve as a venue for local input and 
concerns about those businesses.

But a ban on unlicensed marijuana establishments before licenses for 
some marijuana-related businesses have been established or defined is 
putting the cart before the horse. It's the state's responsibility to 
define what businesses are legal and provide licensing for them, and 
state authorities have let the marijuana club gray area go 
unaddressed too long. Whether or not the clubs are found to be in 
keeping with the intent of voters in legalizing marijuana 
consumption, possession, use and sale, there should be definition and 
clarity on the matter.

It's hard to blame Mr. Quist for wanting to provide that clarity at a 
borough level, given the number of businesses capitalizing on the 
loophole and the inaction on it thus far. But the state is the 
authority that should make the determination, and the borough should 
take its lead from that decision. It's past time for the matter of 
marijuana clubs to be sorted out.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom