Pubdate: Mon, 02 May 2016
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (AK)
Copyright: 2016 Fairbanks Publishing Company, Inc.
Author: Amanda Bohman


FAIRBANKS - When Megan and Marcus Mooers started thinking about 
opening a private marijuana club, they knew they wanted the name to 
have the initials THC.

THC is short for tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana.

"We kind of spitballed for names until we found one that worked," 
Megan Mooers said. "It had to be something clever, something we could brand."

They came up with The Higher Calling, opened their doors in November 
and attracted hundreds of members. But five months later, Fairbanks' 
first marijuana business closed because it lacked enough dues-paying 
members to continue. Now, under local law, marijuana clubs in the 
Fairbanks North Star Borough are illegal.

The Assembly on Thursday approved an ordinance requiring all 
marijuana businesses in the borough to have a state license. The 
state, so far, has no authority to issue licenses to marijuana clubs.

About 400 people joined THC during the five months it operated, 
according to the owners. The club charged dues of $10 to $40, but it 
wasn't enough and The Higher Calling fell behind on its rent, the 
owners said. The same has happened at other private marijuana clubs 
in Alaska, according to the Alaska Journal of Commerce. Only one club 
in Anchorage reportedly remains.

The Higher Calling was a haven for cannabis connoisseurs and others - 
college students, retirees, fast food workers, repairmen, cancer 
patients, veterans, lonely stoners, tourists, lookie-loos - in search 
of a place to enjoy a new-found freedom to come together and use pot 
without the fear of prosecution.

The Mooers had hoped to make the club a marijuana headquarters in 
Fairbanks. They promoted the club on social media and held a variety 
of special events to attract new members.

The club hosted live music, art demonstrations, comedy, game nights, 
a plant and seed exchange, and a St. Patrick's Day party with the 
theme "Kiss Me, I'm Highrish," attracting a small but loyal following.

Fairbanks musicians Ukulele Russ, Spank Williams, Kentucky Tundra, 
and Ryan Bowers and the Brain Trust all played the venue.

One night, pipes and joints passed from one person to the next and 
members were eager to pontificate on the topic of cannabis - how to 
grow it, how to cook with it or what the best strains are.

Growers passed around smartphones with pictures of their plants and 
discussed different varieties of marijuana like a wine aficionado 
would talk about grapes. A potluck buffet included food infused with 
marijuana. People traded and gave away tiny cannabis plant clones.

The club was set up with one large main room and several smaller, 
themed rooms off to the side. In the main sitting area, a large 
amber-colored ashtray dominated a coffee table surrounded by couches 
and chairs. The club had a pool table, video games, a hookah, a stage 
and a beat-up piano that was dragged in from the street.

Chris Fitts, a delivery driver, was a regular at the cannabis club.

"I was intrigued at the concept of a public place that allowed the 
consumption of cannabis," he said.

Members who visited regularly said a typical night involved a group 
of five to 10 people, but live music or other special events drew dozens.

Fitts lives in a duplex where his landlord frowns on the use of pot. 
He described the people he met at The Higher Calling as "educated 
salt of the Earth."

He leaned against a wall, talking with Paul Harvey, a student at the 
University of Alaska Fairbanks. Harvey carried his water bong to the 
club in a wine bottle case. He joined The Higher Calling because UAF 
prohibits marijuana use.

"This is a good place to be able to openly socialize with weed," Harvey said.

The state deemed the club illegal but took no steps to close it down.

The state Marijuana Control Office maintains that clubs like The 
Higher Calling are illegal, in part because of the prohibition on 
public consumption of marijuana and because clubs are not provided 
for under the new marijuana laws.

Voters in Alaska approved a ballot measure in 2014 decriminalizing 
marijuana but prohibiting use "in public."

The Mooers saw the club as allowed under the First Amendment right of 
people to peaceably assemble.

"Politicians have been saying that we are operating illegally, but no 
one can point to any law we are breaking," Marcus Mooers wrote on the 
club's Facebook page.

The Mooers say marijuana clubs are needed because the definition of 
"in public" is so broad that it leaves some people, including renters 
and visitors to Fairbanks, without a place to use marijuana.

The new law permits people older than 21 to use marijuana 
recreationally, and to open a marijuana business, but says nothing 
about marijuana clubs.

Members of The Higher Calling provided their own weed, though 
marijuana was often freely shared among club members.

Sara Farrell, a sandwich maker who lives in an apartment near the 
club, said her landlord is OK with pot. She joined The Higher Calling 
to be social with other pot smokers. She packed a glass pipe, took a 
puff and passed it around.

"It's really cool to come over here and meet people," she said. "I 
was going to be smoking anyways. I might as well smoke with people. 
It's nice to be able to share."

Another night, two mothers sat in the jazz room, which had couches 
and murals of jazz musicians, taking a break from work and 
child-rearing. One was a nurse, and the other was a stay-at-home mom 
with a husband with a sensitive job in aviation. Both asked to be 
anonymous, citing concerns related to employment.

They had joined The Higher Calling that night to check it out. The 
nurse ground up buds of marijuana in a tool that looked like a small 
pepper grinder and rolled the dusty substance in red, flavored paper. 
The two friends shared the joint and reflected on their lives.

The club also drew people who were curious to see how the new law 
decriminalizing marijuana was working.

Greg, a nurse from Ohio, declined an offer of a pipe and also to 
disclose his last name. He wanted to see how legal marijuana was 
unfolding in Alaska, he said. He compared the club with marijuana 
clubs he has visited in Amsterdam.

The club fell under the law enforcement jurisdiction of the Fairbanks 
Police Department.

According to Deputy Chief Eric Jewkes, the police department was 
called to the club one time. The call was for an incapacitated 
person, but police aren't sure if the call was related to the club or 
if the person just happened to be in the area.

Neighbors of the club were contacted and either declined to comment 
or said the club was no bother.

The club kept afternoon and evening hours Tuesday through Saturday.

On Facebook, The Higher Calling attacted hundreds of likes and 20 
reviews, all giving it five stars. The Mooers continue to post 
marijuana news stories on the page and stated that they hope to open 
again in a new location.

"The people here are very nice," wrote James Norris in a review of 
the club. "They provide a grown-up environment to socialize with 
others that enjoy cannabis."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom