State of marijuana: The future of the cannabis industry in Alaska

Along with vertical integration, one cannabis business is focusing on edibles and other ways people consume marijuana.
Published: Mar. 11, 2022 at 5:46 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Evan Levinton started growing marijuana when he was a teenager living in Anchorage as a way to save money. As an adult, he traveled to California to perfect the craft. When legalization came to Alaska, he’d learned enough about the marijuana industry to start one of the city’s most successful grows and retail shops with his family.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” said Levinton, co-owner of Enlighten Alaska. “I’ll say this, we’re a family business and it’s pushed our limits super far, but also we’ve blossomed and like kind of grew our family together. So I guess I’ll say this, it could tear people apart or bring them together really close and fortunately it brought us together really close.”

Enlighten Alaska, which Levinton owns with his family, is a vertically integrated operation, which means there is a license to grow and sell marijuana.

His family business has been a leader in the industry since legalization and has seized on the trends that most suggest needed to be accomplished to continue to be a successful marijuana business in the future. Along with vertical integration, the business is focusing on edibles and healthier ways people are consuming marijuana. There is also the question of how the state collects taxes and how will federally-legalized marijuana impact the local economy.

“We’re a vertically integrated business and that’s really unique in this industry,” said Winston Montecillo, with Enlighten Alaska. “So we grow our own products, we extract it into oils, we manufacture other products with them — so like cookies, capsules, tinctures — and we sell them all here.”

Industry insiders say vertical integration is one key to running a successful business.

“Who’s winning right now is folks that are vertically integrated, and or have multiple retails that have good buying power,” said Jana Weltzin, a marijuana attorney in Anchorage. “That’s who’s winning right now.”

Enlighten Alaska is one of more than 150 currently operating retail marijuana shops in the state, according to license records from the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development.

The grow harvests about 60-70 pounds every three weeks.

Enlighten says the industry is changing and so are consumer habits.

“More and more people are going to be using cannabis products, but less and less of those same people are going to be smokers,” Montecillo said. “So I think we’re going to see a bunch of brand new products coming out that, you know, might be not exactly pre-rolls or vape cartridges per se. I think we’re going to see a lot of drinks come out, non-smoking ways to consume.

According to a 2020 report by the state health department, smoking was the most common way Alaskans consume marijuana in 2017, at a rate of 86%, but edible consumption is increasing. Most marijuana users in Alaska, according to the report, say they do it to “relax” and “relieve tension.”

The number of marijuana products sold and tax revenues have also risen steadily.

According to the report, from January-October 2019 more than 17 tons of taxed marijuana products were sold, generating more than $17 million in state tax revenue.

Lacy Wilcox, with the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, says in particular in Anchorage there are a lot of retail shops and closures can be expected.

“The saturation is definitely on everybody’s mind,” Wilcox said. “There’s a lot of product out there. There’s a lot of retailers. The price is coming down, that has people a little bit nervous on the wholesale level.”

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