Pubdate: Thu, 01 Sep 2016
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2016 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Laurel Andrews


Alaska's attorney general has weighed in on whether or not marijuana 
social clubs  unlicensed venues where people consume cannabis, which 
sprang up in the aftermath of Alaska's vote to legalize marijuana - are legal.

"The answer is no," Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth wrote in 
a Wednesday opinion.

The 14-page document is addressed to Chris Hladick, commissioner of 
the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, who 
requested the legal opinion.

"If that place is not a licensed retail marijuana store, consuming 
marijuana there is unlawful," Jahna Lindemuth, Alaska attorney 
general, wrote in the opinion.

After Alaska legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, social clubs 
popped up in Anchorage, on the Kenai Peninsula, Wasilla and 
Fairbanks, although some later shut down. People pay a membership fee 
and receive access to the space to smoke marijuana they've brought 
with them, though free samples are sometimes provided. Events are 
often held at the venues.

Pot Luck Events, a marijuana social club in Anchorage, spoke out 
against the opinion on Wednesday.

"We want to be in conformance with the law, however, this is still an 
opinion ... it's not a statute at this point. We want to make that 
very clear," said Lee Haywood, with Pot Luck.

Under Alaska's 2014 initiative that legalized recreational marijuana, 
public consumption is illegal. The state defined "in public" to 
include businesses or a place to which "a substantial group of people 
has access."

Under those qualifications, the marijuana clubs are considered public 
and are thus illegal, Lindemuth wrote.

The "free samples" provided by clubs are also illegal, Lindemuth 
wrote. If the club is in possession of more than 1 ounce of 
marijuana, it would fall under personal-use limits and would be 
considered guilty of unlawful possession, the opinion says.

And businesses providing free samples may be guilty of delivering 
marijuana, given that one must pay an access fee to the site, and 
therefore they may be found transferring marijuana for payment  even 
if the marijuana is supplied by a third party, she wrote.

Department of Law spokesperson Cori Mills said Wednesday's opinion 
served as clarification surrounding the legal issue.

Haywood believes the opinion "changes public opinion more than 
anything else," and said he would be meeting with attorneys to form 
strategy that evening. He maintains Pot Luck does not sell marijuana, 
and charges for events, not free samples.

"We're really tired of fighting," Haywood said.

"Do I think the clubs should be shut down? No." said Cary Carrigan, 
executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association. "I 
don't think at the moment they are posing a problem but I understand 
that legally ... they're outside the exact parameters of what the law 
states," he said.

"The law is pretty simple to read. Is anybody going to enforce it, I 
guess is a better question," he said.

Enforcement staff with the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office will 
work with local law enforcement "to address illegal consumption," 
wrote Micaela Fowler, special assistant in the commerce 
commissioner's office, in a press release.

"Local governments may use their civil and injunctive powers to 
disallow the operation of illegal businesses in their cities and 
boroughs," Fowler wrote.

When asked whether the Anchorage Police Department has plans to 
pursue enforcement, spokesperson Jennifer Castro wrote, "Our job is 
to enforce the laws, so if folks are breaking them, then we would 
enforce the laws."

The state fine for public consumption is $100. After the Legislature 
passed a comprehensive crime bill this summer, most felonies for 
possessing or selling marijuana were repealed, and there are now only 
misdemeanor marijuana crimes, except for selling hash, or selling pot 
to minors. Questions regarding what other criminal penalties the 
clubs could face were not immediately answered Wednesday.

In July 2015, the state Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office issued 
cease and desist letters to three social clubs. The Marijuana Control 
Board later clarified it didn't have authority to enforce the clubs, 
but added language allowing enforcement officers within the control 
office to pursue unlicensed operations, as they can do with alcohol.

Still, as of May, Pot Luck Events in Anchorage was the only club 
still operating without a legal challenge.

Pot Luck's Haywood said the club has been open for 18 months, and 
there has been no enforcement taken against the club during that time.

"It's getting frustrating at this point. We're trying to provide a 
community service," Haywood said.

Upwards of 6,000 members belong to the club, Haywood said. "We're not 
public ... it's not a space where anybody can just walk in off the 
street," he said.

The opinion applies only to marijuana social clubs that are 
unlicensed. Separately, the state is creating rules around on-site 
consumption areas, akin to a marijuana cafe or bar, which would exist 
within a licensed marijuana retail store.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom