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Juneau approves first cannabis store for onsite consumption

Rainforest Farms Cafe in downtown Juneau. (09/10/2020).
Rainforest Farms Cafe in downtown Juneau. (09/10/2020).(KTUU)
Published: Sep. 10, 2020 at 3:23 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - A Juneau dispensary has become the first local business approved by city officials for onsite consumption of cannabis.

The city’s Planning Commission approved the application unanimously on Tuesday evening. The next step for Rainforest Farms is to get approval from the state Marijuana Control Board in late-October.

Giono Barrett, the co-owner of the Juneau dispensary, said the goal is to get an onsite consumption area up and running inside the downtown store by December.

The cafe would not see smoking of cannabis inside its premises which is not allowed under a local ordinance. Customers would instead be limited to buying edible marijuana products to eat onsite.

Barrett said he hoped to have smoking in his store eventually but wanted to see consumption of edibles immediately.

Under regulations approved by the Marijuana Control Board in 2019, customers are limited to buying and consuming 10 mg of edible marijuana products per day at a dispensary.

Barrett wants to create a small comfortable cafe-style area inside the store modeled somewhat after cannabis coffeeshops in Amsterdam.

There would also be the goal to host community events at the cafe. “Most of it will be an eatery but there will be a smaller counter for the purchase of products,” Barrett said.

Ketchikan and Fairbanks stores getting ready for onsite consumption

In January, two Alaska businesses became the first cannabis dispensaries in the country to receive state approval to offer onsite consumption of cannabis. Then COVID-19 hit and plans stalled.

Ayme and Kanoe Zantua own Cannabis Corner in Ketchikan. They have a separate lounge area inside their store with a television on the wall, graphic novels and adult-themed coloring books for entertainment when customers consume cannabis.

As opposed to Rainforest Farms, Cannabis Corner will allow smoking of marijuana onsite. The store has a ventilation system to remove cannabis smoke which is required under state regulations.

“We’re ready to go,” said Ayme Zantua.

She explained that the COVID-19 pandemic halted plans to open the lounge area in February. “As the COVID cases went up, we just decided to play it safe and not open it,” Kanoe Zantua said.

The dispensary owners don’t know when they will open their lounge but are monitoring state reopening plans.

One of the goals of getting onsite consumption approved in Southeast Alaska is to serve the hundreds of thousands of cruise ship passengers who arrive into local communities each year.

Cruise ship passengers often only spend a few hours onshore in each city they visit and many are interested in trying legal cannabis. The conundrum for customers is that Alaska law prohibits people from consuming cannabis in public places outside of dispensaries that are approved for onsite consumption.

“In the summer, tourism accounts for probably 50% of our sales,” Barrett said. “We get a lot of questions from tourists wondering where they can consume a product, we generally tell them where they can’t consume.”

Allowing onsite consumption at dispensaries could solve that problem.

In Ketchikan, a local bus service and tour companies could bring tourists from the city’s cruise ship dock to the store when normal travel resumes.

“There’s actually a lot more local interest than I had expected,” said Kanoe Zantua. “Which is good, because our store is mainly focused on the locals, but I’m sure we will get the tourists when they come.”

GoodSinse, a dispensary in Fairbanks, was also approved for onsite consumption in January. The store’s owners did not respond to a request for comment but a staff member said the dispensary’s onsite consumption area is still under construction.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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