Where marijuana is legal, complaints rise about the smell

21 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Alaska Marijuana Control Board makes major residency requirement change at last minute.

Atlanta — That tinge of strange smoke once smelled mostly in the high seats at rock shows has become commonplace in parts of America where voters have legalized marijuana. JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The board tasked with writing rules for Alaska’s recreational marijuana industry voted Friday to allow for people to use pot at certain stores that will sell it, a first among the four states that have legalized the drug.In this Feb. 20, 2015, file photo, Peter Lomonaco, co-founder of the Alaska Cannabis Club, and CEO Charlo Greene smoke at their medical marijuana dispensary in Anchorage, Alaska.At the end of an all-day meeting Friday to craft Alaska’s first regulations over the cannabis industry, the state Marijuana Control Board adopted new rules that could blow the door wide open to Outside investment. A Washington Post survey found that in some city wards nearly 70 percent of people smell marijuana smoke at least once a month during their perambulations and 1 in 3 people smell it every day, just a year after the city legalized it for recreational use and personal possession, though not sales. “People aren’t as discreet as they were before it was legal,” a 21-year-old D.C. resident named Wuan Smith told the Post.

Marijuana businesses must be 100 percent Alaskan owned, but the definition of what makes an Alaskan was changed from matching what is needed to receive a Permanent Fund dividend to matching voter registration requirements, which is far easier to achieve. The new cannabis industry regulations include a concession to marijuana clubs that still leaves a hazy legal area to be challenged later, a ban on Outside investment, revisions to concentration limits, allowances for retail operations and limited cultivator licenses, and clarifications to packaging requirements. Combined with other measures approved Friday, the board’s action effectively makes Alaska the first state in the nation to legalize Amsterdam-style marijuana cafes. Indeed, America’s growing experiment with legalized recreational pot has literally changed the atmosphere around a drug that has for decades been one of the top reasons for arrests in the US.

Qualifying for a PFD requires documents such as employment and school records or vehicle registration, and a certain number of days spent physically in the state. Friday’s vote answers the complaints of Alaskans who contended that the state’s ban on marijuana consumption “in public” leaves visitors (and Alaskans whose rental contracts prohibit smoking) no place to consume marijuana. The vote passed 3-2 as the meeting came to a close, with Loren Jones, public health board member, and Peter Mlynarik, the public safety board member, dissenting. Many of the complainants had asked for the board to approve marijuana clubs, private establishments that would allow the consumption of marijuana bought elsewhere. “We’ve gotten an overwhelming amount of public feedback on this issue,” said board chairman Bruce Schulte. “This is an attempt to address this outstanding problem.” “The reason for this is to meet the projected tourist trade,” said board member Mark Springer. “I think it’s going to offer an opportunity for some businesses to be creative in their business planning, especially to go after some of the tourist market.” The 3-2 vote Friday allows the state to create a “license endorsement,” a special permission granted to license holders, that allows them to set aside a portion of their store where marijuana may be consumed. In more than 500 pages of written comments over the rule drafting process, many complained of overly restrictive regulations coming from the state’s regulatory body.

Jones said he opposed the vote because all that would be needed to prove residency is to rent an apartment and cancel one’s voter registration in any other state. Board member Loren Jones, also a member of the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly, said that in Juneau’s case, this measure would allow indoor consumption of edibles, but it wouldn’t allow indoor marijuana smoking, which is prohibited under the CBJ’s antismoking rules. “If an establishment in my community wanted to allow consumables other than smoking, maybe the community wouldn’t protest,” he said. “But if the applicant wanted to allow a place for persons to smoke their product … then they would be in violation.” In another vote taken Friday morning, the board allowed marijuana licensees to sell non-marijuana products, including food that does not include psychoactive components. Part of that support may be explained by the fact that African-Americans, research has shown, have been disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition laws, even though more white people partake. The initiative banned public consumption but didn’t define “public.” Regulators adopted an emergency regulation earlier this year when the law was taking effect that defined “in public” as a place where the public or a substantial group of people have access. But MCB director Cynthia Franklin warned the amendment doesn’t make them legal. “We recognize that this is a problem because people can buy cannabis but they have nowhere to consume it,” said MCB Chair Bruce Schulte. ”We’d like to have at least the option of at least allowing folks to have place where they can go consume it in a controlled environment where everybody’s ID is being checked.” Not all proposed amendments to the proposed regulations were approved.

Theoretically, a Californian investor could become an Alaskan under voting registration requirements by renting an Anchorage apartment and canceling his San Francisco ballot card. Though the state has the power to set general rules, cities and towns can opt out of approving licenses, similar to current local option laws on alcohol.

Some initiative supporters thought that definition was too restrictive, saying it would seemingly even bar pot consumption at weddings or office parties. Springer introduced the motion following hours of debate limiting Outsider dollars, which industry representative board members Schulte and Emmett had stubbornly resisted. “We’ve systematically removed every source of investment for this industry,” said Schulte. “We’re quickly getting to the point there’s only 15 people who will be able to get into this industry.” Previous regulations specified that licensees must follow Permanent Fund residency rules, which are much more stringent than voter registration. The closest comparison to Alaska’s new system are the marijuana cafes that cater to tourists in Amsterdam, which has become a destination for marijuana enthusiasts.

But concerns about children getting access and their exposure to second-hand smoke as well as other the societal effects of marijuana still run deep in some parts of the country. Earlier in the day, the board had voted down two separate amendments that would have allowed for 25 percent Outside investment, but the final changes, some said, were actually far more inclusive for Outsiders. “When you have 75 percent ownership then you give immediate value to Alaska residents.

Now, right now …. an Alaska resident is not needed to have a place in this market,” marijuana industry attorney Jana Weltzin said. “Believe me, I’m shocked,” Milks said. “They had legal authority probably to do it, but (the Department of Law) is going to look at it really, really carefully,” she said. Many critics predicted a rise in public intoxication, buzzed driving and crime after Colorado legalized pot, and concerns about children’s exposure to the drug. Cynthia Franklin, the board’s director, said she expects another round of regulations detailing exactly what will be allowed at those stores, such as the types of marijuana.

Leading into the vote, the discussion had focused on making sure there was adequate control and safety in the market, and the residency requirements allowed for that, Milks said. Now, with unchecked Outside investment allowed to come in, “there’s no way to control any of it, so it’s a big problem.” Board member Brandon Emmett said after the vote that after speaking with Weltzin, his attorney, he had concerns over the vote. Allowing for sole Outside investment wasn’t their intent, he said. “Next we see … if that just opens the door to anyone and their cousin is true or now if we’ll actually get the investment that we needed,” Emmett said. That purchase might include drinkable, edible or smokable products, and all will be required to be labeled with the total estimated amount of THC within.

In Colorado, where legalization banned pot use in public and in bars, marijuana tourists and activists have complained the limits are too restrictive. High Valley Farms in Pitkin County has been the focus of a county commission probe as neighbors complain about a skunky aroma floating out of the facility. “Six months ago our neighborhood smelled like a neighborhood, and now it smells like someone is holding up a package of marijuana to your face.,” neighbor Bart Axelman told the Denver Post.

Marijuana clubs, the hottest topic by far according to board members, will continue to be a gray legal area even if they lose ground to the marijuana retail onsite consumption allowance introduced by Bruce Schulte, which paves the way for a marijuana café-like establishment. In Washington, use is restricted to a private place and there’s been no move by the Legislature to open that up, said Brian Smith, spokesman for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. Schulte’s amendment struck the previous draft’s prohibition on clubs, acknowledging the board’s inability to prohibit a nonexistent license type, and created a new addition. Under those rules, however, no one has been cited for excessive odor so far in the Mile High City. “You do have people who just object to the whole idea,” Mr. Assistant Attorney General Harriet Milks told board members that allowing Outside investment would prevent security problems, since the state can’t reliably conduct criminal background checks on investors.

A previous version of the regulations had specified that marijuana must be packaged in opaque plastic. • A broker cultivation license was removed from proposed regulations. The board, industry, and many local governments have openly acknowledged they want some kind of cannabis consumption venue, but Ballot 2 created no such license.

The license was seen as a way to help small black-market growers transition to the legal market, but the board decided that the broker did not fall under the auspices of a cultivation license. Several arguments will need to be addressed as a result, depending on whether the board chooses to exercise any enforcement against Collins’ establishment or Soldotna’s Green Rush Events. As Emmett explained, that controlled substance exclusion would prevent anyone convicted of marijuana possession after 2010 from applying for a license. Regulations proposed by state staff had prohibited the distribution of branded merchandise to promote business, but board members differed, saying the profusion of marijuana-related clothing is already so prevalent as to make prohibition futile. “It’s not Joe Camel advertising,” Springer said in response to concerns that branded merchandise is targeted at kids not able to legally buy marijuana. Jones, one of two voting against the proposal, said nothing prohibited a marijuana business from getting around the restriction by starting a second business specifically to market branded products, and he didn’t see a need for the prohibition to go away.

If marijuana club users aren’t getting their product from retailers, she said, they could be buying dangerous and untested product from criminal producers. “There’s a danger that marijuana clubs will serve as a great place for black market dealers to move their product,” Franklin told the crowd of municipal officials. The untested product, she said, could cause health concerns. “What happens if there’s marijuana tainted with E. coli, and everybody at the club is passing it around and smokes it?” Franklin also makes an economic argument against clubs, in that they will unfairly compete with licensed establishments.

Unfortunately for those seeking to open businesses away from the Alaska road system, federal laws prohibit the transportation of marijuana by boat or plane. In a 3-2 vote, the marijuana board said license applicants can “propose alternative means of testing” when “geographic location and transportation locations” make it impossible to ship marijuana to a testing facility. Staff amended the definition to exclude retail establishments granted an onsite consumption provision. “’Public place’ means a place to which the public has access and includes, but is not limited to, streets, highways, sidewalks, alleys, transportation facilities, parking areas, convention centers, sports arenas, schools, places of business or amusement, shopping centers, malls, parks, playgrounds, prisons, and other portions of apartment houses and hotels not constituting rooms or apartments designed for actual residence such as hallways, lobbies, and doorways,” the regulation reads. Franklin and the Department of Law believes this applies to clubs as well, though clubs charge membership fees and only admit adults over the age of 21. The first licenses must be issued in mid-May, and given a 90-day cultivation cycle, the first commercial marijuana stores could be up and running by August.

As of yet, this interpretation has not been challenged or taken to an Alaska court for specific rulings resultant from any prosecutions, or any challenges from other establishments who charge membership or entry fees who otherwise might not be considered a “public place,” such as bars, strip clubs, cigar bars, or private social clubs. The board failed to revise buffer limits for marijuana operations after a proposal to allow them within 200 feet of churches, which would have mirrored alcohol regulation’s church buffer. Boroughs and local governments including Fairbanks-North Star Borough spoke against the 500 foot buffer zone, which is only half the federal Drug Free Zone standard of 1,000 feet. Alaska’s small towns and villages, particularly Southeast Alaska communities with heavy tourism economies, will have difficulty finding child-free space in any of the areas zoned for business.

Under previous drafts, limited cultivators were required to sell only through brokers, causing public backlash from small growers who say the brokerage fees would kill their entire business.

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