After long wait, some Alaska pot shops offer consumption in stores

Cannabis Corner outside Ketchikan is among the country's first pot shops to offer onsite...
Cannabis Corner outside Ketchikan is among the country's first pot shops to offer onsite consumption.(KTUU)
Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 4:38 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Two pot shops in Alaska are among the first in the country to offer onsite consumption of cannabis. One is located a few miles outside Ketchikan.

Kanoe Zantuya, owner of Cannabis Corner, said customers had been consuming cannabis in the shop for three weeks when the COVID-19 pandemic shut that down. Now, a small indoor consumption area has reopened for Ketchikan locals and tourists.

“Some people just need a spot where they can smoke and it’s legal,” Zantuya said. “There are other people who just like the idea of smoking in a cannabis lounge.”

The onsite consumption area is built as a lounge room. It has couches, a fireplace and a television. There is also a record player, a free arcade game and adult coloring books.

“I’d say 95% of the people who come in end up coloring at some point,” Zantuya said.

State regulations require ventilation systems in indoor smoking areas and $3,000 paid for the onsite license and endorsement. There are also daily limits on how much cannabis a person can consume.

Keagan Widmier, a 28 year-old construction worker from Sitka, came into Cannabis Corner in early July with his brother Sage Widmier to smoke pot.

“This is the first legal smoking room I’ve ever been in,” he said. “It’s definitely a nice treat after work, a nice way to relax.”

The two brothers smoked a joint and played an arcade game before catching a taxi to play football. Zantuya said store rules dictate that groups come with a designated driver or order a taxi.

After years of work, state regulators last year approved Cannabis Corner and Good Titrations in Fairbanks as the first two Alaska pot shops to offer onsite consumption. Two other Alaska stores have received state approval but are not yet operating.

Jenica Henderson, inventory manager at Good Titrations, said the lounge area has been open since April 20, a day of celebration in cannabis culture. The store has board games, televisions and customers can also order food from the café.

“It’s been really interesting,” Henderson said as the store has grown in popularity, particularly on weekends.

Advocates of legal onsite consumption say it helps solve a thorny issue for tourists: They can legally buy cannabis in Alaska, but it’s illegal to consume it in public. Violators can be fined $100.

“I think having that as an option is brilliant,” said Lacy Wilcox, the head Alaska Marijuana Industry Association. “Otherwise we are making criminals of our tourists.”

Some shops are trying to get onsite consumption approval to serve the hundreds of thousands of cruise ship passengers who visit Alaska each summer. Rainforest Farms in Juneau was the first retail store to get city approval last year, another requirement to operate.

James Barrett, co-owner of Rainforest Farms, said the plan is to temporarily close in September and reopen in early November as a cannabis café. The store will apply for state approval in October, but only for edibles products.

State regulations require that retail stores be free-standing to allow smoking pot indoors. Wilcox suggested that could be overly prohibitive and said Alaska legislators may need to revisit cannabis laws as dispensaries are often on busy streets or in strip malls.

Despite the challenges, two Alaska pot shops are offering onsite consumption and others are working toward the same goal.

“It’s kind of cool that Alaska is getting to set a little bit of a trend, at least for this country,” Wilcox said.

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