Assembly blocks marijuana paperwork

• Move defers consideration of marijuana businesses for 9 months • Many testify in support of marijuana industry • Assembly also considers secondhand smoke rules

After extensive testimony Monday, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly approved a moratorium that prohibits marijuana-related businesses until Oct. 19, six months after the end of the Alaska Legislature’s scheduled end.

 

The text of the moratorium states that city officials will not consider any land use permits or other documentation until the moratorium expires. As a result, marijuana-related businesses will not be able to establish farms or prepare for retail sales.

The effect of the moratorium on the general public will be limited. The marijuana legalization ballot measure approved by Alaska voters becomes effective Feb. 24, allowing Alaskans to use marijuana recreationally. Under the terms of the ballot measure, the state has until Nov. 24 to finalize regulations covering retail marijuana sales. The first permit for a retail marijuana store can be issued no later than Feb. 24, 2016.

Despite those dates, many of the members of the public who testified Monday said a moratorium will hurt entrepreneurs planning businesses.

“I want to see Juneau become a forerunner,” business owner Tracy LaBarge told the assembly. “I want to see it done in a very responsible and classy way.”

Eight individuals gave public comment on ordinance 2014-50, which as originally written called for a 12-month moratorium. Most of those who testified asked for a shorter moratorium, saying that a yearlong block on paperwork would prevent them from planning ahead to meet the state’s anticipated permitting process.

“A 12-month moratorium is just too long,” Giono Barrett said. He’s planning a marijuana business with his brother, James Barrett. “It gives about two weeks to deal with permitting.”

Teacher Adam Berkey spoke up to request speedy movement for policymaking on behalf of medical marijuana users, who are legally allowed to use the drug but struggle with a supply.

“When getting our cards, we ask ‘How do we get medicine,’ and they say ‘Well, you can grow it in three months,’” Berkey said.

Benjamin Wilcox, a longtime bartender, and attorney Kevin Higgins told the assembly that the longer it takes to get legitimate businesses up and running, the longer the city must deal with a black or “gray” market for marijuana.

Assembly member Jesse Kiehl proposed amending the moratorium to adjust its end date. He suggested an end date of Oct. 19 — six months after the end of the Alaska Legislature’s session on April 19.

The Alaska Legislature is expected to take up marijuana regulation during that session, and it remains unclear what the final results will look like.

Assembly members Loren Jones and Mary Becker did not vote in favor of the amendment, but every other assembly member moved to approve it. It was passed unanimously as amended.

Four members of the public also spoke out against ordinance 2014-51(b), which amends Juneau’s secondhand smoke ordinance to include marijuana products.

Mike Peterson said the amendment would be redundant because there is already a law prohibiting the use of marijuana in public.

“You can’t regulate stupid, you just can’t,” he said, referencing the number of people cited in Colorado for using marijuana in public. “The idea of one more ordinance on the books — I just don’t understand what it’s for.”

Peterson said he’d like to see the city form a committee or working group to move forward on marijuana policy.

James Barrett asked whether existing rules contain an exemption that allows a tobacco store to permit smoking. That would open the door for a marijuana store to allow consumption of marijuana.

City Attorney Amy Mead clarified that there is only one exception to the ordinance, which is for an outdoor patio.

“We voted to legalize so people can do it safely, consume responsibly,” James Barrett said of marijuana use. Without a possible place for people to use marijuana, “we might push people out onto the streets.”

Jesse Palomino said by not having the possibility of a marijuana smoking establishment, the city would be foregoing potential revenue.

“It essentially would ban some kind of lounge, which would be definitely be a source of revenue considering all the tourism,” he said. “It would be irresponsible especially with this deficit ... to deny any possible revenue we could have.”

Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski asked the CBJ law department to draft an amendment that would define a private club for use of marijuana.

Other assembly members requested to see the amendment before moving forward. After a five-minute break to make copies, Mayor Merrill Sanford proposed the ordinance and Gladziszewski’s amendment be sent back to the Human Resources Committee for further evaluation.

Other key actions at the assembly meeting:

• Mayor Sanford proclaimed January National Mentoring Month, honoring Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska

• Exchange students from two programs were introduced before the assembly

• The entire consent agenda was approved as submitted

• Approved with unanimous consent was funding for a K9 program for the Juneau Police Department, funding for the Amalga Harbor fish cleaning station project, funding for a new baler for recyclables for Waste Management and a “housekeeping” amendment to administrative code relating to the appeal process for civil violations.

• The assembly began hearing new business at nearly 9 p.m. Look for that story on Wednesday.

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