Bumps in the road to legalizing on-site inhalation of marijuana in Anchorage

Published: Sep. 3, 2019 at 7:48 PM AKDT
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The Municipality of Anchorage wants to legalize the on-site inhalation of marijuana at licensed retail establishments. The Anchorage Assembly is working to get an ordinance on the 2020 ballot, but first, they have to find a way around the city's existing smoking ban.

"I've already received several panic emails that the assembly is overturning the smoking ban," member Forrest Dunbar, a co-sponsor of the

, said at a work session Aug. 23. "Which, of course, is absolutely not the case with this."

Dunbar says the ordinance will not have any impact on places where tobacco is already consumed indoors.

"This relates only to free-standing marijuana retail stores that can create a ventilated space, or an outdoor space, if they can find a way to comply with the odor ordinance," he said.

The ordinance is set to appear for public hearing on Sept. 10. Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson asked for more time in order to directly involve the Municipal Health Department in honing the language.

"I asked Ms. Pineda, the head of the health department, what she thought about this," Quinn-Davidson said. "She said she didn't have time to come up with a recommendation prior to Sept. 10.

"We've been doing this really good system," she said, "which is engaging our communities, and I would like to see that we take the time on something this big."

Member Kameron Perez-Verdia expressed concern over the enforcement of impaired driving.

"One of the things we talked about was the impact of an edible, the delayed response, and how police would respond to that," he said. "I have the same questions as it pertains to smoking: What is the process for the facility managing people who are impaired and what do the police see as an impact of this?"

Police did not comment at the Aug. 23 special meeting. Fairbanks, another Alaskan city that has legalized the on-site consumption of marijuana, is training drug detection experts to detect marijuana-impaired driving, according to Fairbanks Borough Assembly member Shaun Tacke.

Another big point of concern is how many people will be allowed in each legal establishment, but city officials have said municipal fire code will regulate that.

Opposition has come from the American Lung Association -- Executive Director Marge Stoneking has promised to fight on-site inhalation "every step of the way." She did not respond for comment on Tuesday. The Turnagain Community Council also opposes the ordinance, as they did with the on-site consumption of edible marijuana products.

"I think, because all of us have been exposed to so much wildfire smoke this summer, it impacts health. It does impact people," TCC President Cathy Gleason said. "Whenever you burn, you've got toxic things in the air, and people are being exposed to it."

Vice President of Great Northern Cannabis Jordan Huss says the industry is waiting for the potential passage of on-site inhalation before making their retail shops compliant for marijuana consumption. However, he says Alaska is at the forefront of a social transformation that is de-stigmatizing marijuana.

"I think industry professionals and consumers alike are really excited about the legalization of cannabis, as a whole. And as one of the first states to legalize, we're kind of at the forefront of this movement," Huss said. "We've given our piece. I think the assembly understands what the consumer wants; I think the industry understands what the industry would like to see; and they're (the assembly) going to have to work with all parties to make sure that we come to a happy medium."

The deadline to introduce an ordinance that would appear on the 2020 ballot is the first regular meeting of the assembly in Jan. 2020. The deadline to pass it onto the ballot falls on the second meeting.

A Joint Health Policy and Public Safety Committee meeting is scheduled for Sept. 20 on the issue, followed by one more worksession. The assembly will take public comment on Sept. 10 but do not plan to vote at that time. They will likely form an amended version after the public hearing which will incorporate public concerns.

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