Eagle River could see first cannabis shop open

Published: Nov. 17, 2022 at 5:38 PM AKST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - When the rules for cannabis shops were being crafted after legalization in Alaska Eagle River lawmakers took a strict approach, making it almost impossible to have a retail cannabis shop in the area.

“This is a little bit more conservative part of town,” former assembly person Debbie Ossiander from Eagle River said. “And there was not a lot of joy about pot shops, and so they specifically recommended stricter zoning and that passed the assembly, and that’s the way the law is now.”

But recently, the idea of having a cannabis shop located at 12111 Horseshoe Drive has been circulating at community council meetings.

In 2016, Anchorage Assembly members Bill Starr and Amy Demboski — who is now the municipal manager under Mayor Dave Bronsons’ administration — helped push through the more stringent regulations for cannabis in Eagle River, including a 1,000-foot setback from parks and residential areas, which is twice what’s required in the municipality.

Ossiander said it would be “virtually impossible” to have a store in downtown Eagle River, although there is a slim possibility for a store in Peters Creek.

“Opening a retail cannabis store in Eagle River will provide local residents with a legal, tested, and regulated product without having to travel to Anchorage or the Valley. It will also create well-paying jobs, increased tax revenue, and reduce the black market trade in unregulated, untested, and untaxed marijuana,” reads a website created for Alice’s, which is the name of the newly proposed retail cannabis dispensary in Eagle River.

But because of those tougher zoning laws, special permission would be needed from the Anchorage Assembly.

Cannabis tax revenue in the state has increased steadily since legalization, which also increases shared revenue disbursed to local governments.

But the Marijuana Local Option allows local governments to stop the sale or important of marijuana.

“A local government may prohibit the sale or importation for sale of marijuana and any marijuana product and the operation of any marijuana establishment through the enactment of an ordinance or by a voter initiative. The local option laws are found in Title 17.38 of the Alaska Statutes and Title 3 of the Alaska Administrative Code,” reads the state statues under the Alcohol and Marijuana Control office.

“The way the code is currently written, there are no properties in the Chugiak-Eagle River area (except for the Izaak Walton shooting range) that meet the requirements for retail cannabis. Our goal is to amend the code so that retail cannabis is an allowable use for commercially zoned, CE-B3 properties,” reads the website.

Alaska’s News Source investigative unit found out most Anchorage Assembly members say they haven’t heard enough about Alice’s to offer a comment. But Eagle River assembly member Jamie Allard wrote in an email that, “The Community of CER overwhelming voted no to legalize Pot Shops. At this point I will continue to represent the majority of not supporting Pot Shops in CER. No, I would not support such action.”

Assembly co-chair Chris Constant says he feels like a legalized shop would provide safer options over the illegal market.

“Providing a regulated marketplace will improve public safety by ensuring both that products are not sold to minors, and they are properly tested to ensure it is safe for human consumption and to know potency of the product. The final benefit to the municipality at large is the increase of tax revenue to support important local government services offsetting property taxes,” Constant said in an email.

Alaska’s News Source asked Anchorage Police how many people had been cited for having illegal cannabis in Eagle River versus Anchorage.

“I do not have quick access to those numbers. You would need to fill out a Records Request for that data,” Renee Oistad wrote in an email on Oct 31.

A response to the records request still hasn’t been compiled.

“All the reports that I hear from folks on the ground out in Eagle River is that that’s the last bastion of the black market in the municipality,” Constant said. “That since legalization in 2015, we have effectively choked off the illegal marketplace in the municipality— except in one place, Eagle River.”

Questions to the Anchorage School District asking for comparative numbers of students in Eagle River found with cannabis versus students in Anchorage also have not been returned.

The proposed shop is just off North Eagle River Loop road. It’s in a short, squat brown building that currently houses flooring supplies.

It’s also near Boondock Sporting Goods and the newly built neighborhood of Dove Tree Townhomes and a Carl’s Jr. restaurant.

“I think they should keep that stuff in Anchorage,” Vince Scanla, a nearby resident said as he herded his German Shepherd back into his townhome.

“People are people,” Sara Kraiter, who also lives nearby, said. “It’s no different than people who drink alcohol.”

Still, Ossiander said the shop would be too close to the homes to be allowed.

“There’s homes just right there,” Ossiander said. “A school for disabled kids — Behavior Matters is just two doors down — and there’s a church that periodically meets up there too. So the distances don’t match and the zoning district doesn’t match, they continue to try though.”

Jena Weltzin, an attorney who represents Alice’s, says allowing this one shop wouldn’t make it legal for multiple stores to open in Eagle River.

“We need to do some groundwork and get a text amendment to title 21 to allow for Marijuana Shops in the B3 zone in the Eagle River area,” Weltzin said in an email.

“Then, if that is successful, we would need to get several variances approved through the assembly to allow for Alice’s to receive a special land use permit. So, it’s a steady slow process, we are working on securing community support and getting to know what the community’s concerns are. This is not something to be rushed and there are many steps at the municipal level that have to be completed before this project can be considered for Assembly approval.”

Weltzin disputes the idea that most people in Eagle River don’t want a cannabis shop.

“We’ve been discovering through this community engagement there’s a lot of people that don’t want to drive all the way to Anchorage to get legal, tested safe cannabis products,” Weltzin said. “There’s a lot of people that would like to have access in their own community. A lot more than we anticipated.”