Pubdate: Mon, 18 Apr 2016
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2016 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: DJ Summers, Alaska Journal of Commerce


Anchorage's Pot Luck Events is the only marijuana social club still 
operating without a legal challenge, as statewide puzzlement to their 
legality produces a patchwork of local controls.

Fairbanks' The Higher Calling and Homer's Kachemak Cannabis Club have 
both closed, and the City of Kenai is seeking an injunction against 
Green Rush Events.

The clubs, which allow dues-paying members to share and consume 
cannabis but do not sell it themselves, inhabit either a murky legal 
area or a clearly defined one, depending on whom you ask.

The Marijuana Control Board and several localities have asked the 
state to clarify the law, but the Legislature's only action on 
marijuana clubs has been a statewide smoking ban that incidentally 
applies to marijuana clubs and has stalled in the House Judiciary 
Committee chaired by Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage.

Marijuana social clubs are distinct from marijuana cafes. State 
regulations allow for onsite consumption at locations attached to 
retail cannabis stores. The state hasn't yet issued any retail 
licenses, however, and these onsite marijuana cafes will have to wait 
until late 2016 to open along with the rest of the commercial 
marijuana industry once a legal crop is available to sell.

In the meantime, localities deal with marijuana clubs on their own in 
the absence of clarity from the Alaska Legislature.

Down to one

Of the state's marijuana social clubs, Pot Luck Events alone is both 
open and without any pending legal challenge.

In early April, The Higher Calling club in downtown Fairbanks closed 
its doors. Owner Marcus Mooers said the club closed due to low 
membership, not political pressure, having had too few members to 
sustain itself.

Homer's Kachemak Cannabis Club closed in March, on the heels of the 
Homer police chief's conversation with Alcohol and Marijuana Control 
Office Director Cynthia Franklin, during which she told him clubs are 
illegal. Chief Mark Robl said the club closed for internal reasons, 
the city had not initiated any kind of action to close it, and had 
planned to use enforcement as a last resort.

Other clubs are still open, but only until the locality fulfills its 
intent to close them.

In early April, the Kenai city council directed city attorney Scott 
Bloom to seek an injunction against Green Rush Events. The council 
decided the club violates an ordinance passed by the Kenai council in 
January that placed a moratorium on clubs.

The ordinance specifies that in the absence of state clarity, it is 
taking matters into its own hands.

"It is in the best interest of the City of Kenai to establish a 
moratorium prohibiting the consumption of marijuana and marijuana 
products in Retail Marijuana Stores and Marijuana Clubs, until 
further guidance is provided by the Marijuana Control Board or State 
Legislature ensuring minimum health and safety standards are met to 
protect consumers," reads the ordinance.

Bloom said Green Rush Events has since switched its business model; 
it now charges nothing for entry, and sells no beverages. Bloom will 
determine whether or not this violates ordinance and issue an 
injunction accordingly. In the meantime, the club is still open.

Confusion reigns

Authorities have no public consensus on marijuana social club 
legality. State marijuana officials disagree while local officials 
flip-flop between marijuana club prohibition and allowance.

Franklin says clubs are clearly illegal, but city officials, 
newspapers, and the chairman of the Marijuana Control Board are under 
the impression they aren't.

Throughout the marijuana regulation process, Franklin has stayed 
resolute that marijuana clubs violate regulation, which forbids 
cannabis consumption in public places, defined as "any place to which 
the public or a substantial portion of the public are invited."

Club owners say Franklin's interpretation is incorrect, as their 
clubs charge membership fees and are only open to patrons over the 
age of 21, making them private businesses, not public places. 
Franklin argues this makes them no more private than a movie theater.

Bruce Schulte, chairman of the Marijuana Control Board, has 
repeatedly emphasized that the board has not made social clubs 
illegal and awaits legislative action to establish the license type 
or to ban them.

The board struck down a proposed club ban in 2015 and issued a ruling 
that it had no authority to regulate one way or another. Ballot 
Measure 2, which legalized recreational marijuana in Alaska through a 
voter initiative in 2014, does not specify social clubs as a license 
type. The board's authority to regulate clubs depends on the 
Legislature changing statute to add the license.

If clubs are indeed illegal, the state has remained silent at the 
enforcement level.

No state law enforcement agencies have brought any charges against 
clubs or their patrons. This differs from other marijuana businesses 
that fell against state legal action.

The owners of Discreet Deliveries, Alaska Cannabis Club, and 
Absolutely Chronic Delivery Company -- three companies the state 
alleges sold cannabis without state licenses -- were each charged 
with felonies in 2015.

The uncertainty leaks down to the municipal level.

When Kachemak Cannabis Club was burglarized in mid-February, Robl, 
the Homer police chief, said his force wouldn't take action against 
the club's existence, the Homer News reported.

"That's the board's position. Right now they've reached an impasse 
where these clubs are not expressly permitted or prohibited," Robl 
said. "They're allowing them to operate provided there's no proof of 
other violations of law."

However, only weeks later on Feb. 25, Alaska Public Media reported 
Robl said he'd had a misperception that clubs were not illegal, and 
learned otherwise from an unnamed "Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board member."

In a later interview with the Alaska Journal of Commerce, Robl 
revealed the member he spoke with was Franklin.

Robl's new legal interpretation had no chance to be implemented, 
however, as the club closed down of its own accord in March.

The Fairbanks club went through a tangle of local control attempts. 
Fairbanks Councilman David Pruhs sponsored a measure that would have 
banned the club, then withdrew it in mid-January. Pruhs said the 
state needs to decide.

"I am giving the people of this industry time to work with the state 
and rectify this one way or another. I don't believe in shutting down 
a business so soon when there might be a chance that this could 
become a legal activity," he said at the time.

After the ban's withdrawal, The Higher Calling continued operations 
until it folded in late March. Even with Pruhs's ban withdrawn, 
however, the borough still had concerns.

In an April 7 editorial, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner responded to 
a proposed ordinance from Fairbanks North Star Borough Assemblyman 
Christopher Quist that would ban all marijuana businesses without 
state licensure.

"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," reads the editorial.

"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." The 
Anchorage Assembly had planned to discuss marijuana social clubs, but 
member Ernie Hall advised them March 22 to halt marijuana 
considerations after a conversation with Franklin, during which he 
was advised that the state is still considering several 
marijuana-related items.

State silence

With most legislative bandwidth taken by a $4.1 billion budget 
deficit, the Legislature has stayed away from marijuana clubs. No 
bill to create a license type has surfaced, nor any plans to craft one.

The only bill directly pertinent to clubs has stalled and shows no 
sign of movement before lawmakers adjourn. Rather than directly 
addressing the licensing issue, the bill incorporates a de facto 
public marijuana smoking ban into a larger anti-smoking measure.

The pair of anti-tobacco bills had moved successfully through both 
chambers, but stalled in the House Judiciary Committee. House Bill 
328 and companion Senate Bill 1 would enact a statewide ban on 
smoking in any public place except tobacco stores deriving 90 percent 
of their income from tobacco sales.

The bill includes vape pens, e-cigarettes, and any other "plant 
intended for inhalation."

An amendment from Rep. Adam Wool, R-Fairbanks, that would exempt 
marijuana businesses hasn't yet been adopted.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom