Marijuana Control Board to discuss onsite consumption at Wednesday meeting

Published: Nov. 14, 2017 at 7:14 PM AKST
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The state’s marijuana control board will discuss on Wednesday whether or not to allow onsite consumption inside Alaska’s licensed marijuana retailers.

Supporters of the proposal say it will give both residents and tourists more opportunities to consume marijuana in a safe and secure environment. But critics feel it will only create new hazards to public health and safety.

Some marijuana businesses have already begun planning for onsite consumption, in the event that it is approved by the board.

“We’re working on design concepts, we are planning to expand our operations and so in that expansion plan we have our ideas for incorporating onsite consumption if the state of Alaska does allow it,” said Enlighten Alaska co-owner Leah Levinton.

Levinton says onsite consumption would provide an important boost to one of the state’s newest industries, particularly during the summer months.

“This summer, when we had an influx of tourists, the number one question they asked is where can we smoke this product or where can we consume? And we really didn’t have an answer other than in the privacy of a home,” she said. “Onsite consumption would be a really nice benefit for residents and tourists alike to be able to have a safe and legal place to consume.”

But not everyone agrees. The list of opponents to onsite consumption includes several city governments, state health officials and numerous other organizations. Many Alaskans are concerned that onsite consumption will lead to more people driving while under the influence of marijuana. Others are more concerned with the potential effect of second hand smoke.

“We’ve come so far in changing the way we protect the public health and we’ve seen dramatic health benefits from smoke-free workplace policies and we don’t want to see those rolled back by introducing smoke back into the workplace,” said Emily Nenon with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

“One of the biggest benefits and most immediate impacts from passing a smoke-free workplace law is a reduction in hospital heart attack admissions, so there’s very direct strong correlation to health benefits that come from smoke-free public places,” she added.

The proposed regulations in their current form would require retailers to provide a separate room for onsite consumption, along with an adequate ventilation system, limits on how much customers can consume and other security measures.

“There’s plenty of bars in town where you can go drink alcohol with a lot less oversight than is being proposed,” said Cameron Kuhle, a technician with JKD Brands, a business that supplies marijuana containers, packaging and accessories. “There would be additional ventilation systems in place to prevent secondhand smoke from escaping from the consumption area into the retail area, so the intent is that it is completely isolated.”

Others feel that even with those health and safety measures, onsite consumption still poses a risk to the public.

“Ventilation doesn’t actually work. You can remove a lot of the smells but not actually the fine particulate matter and some of the cancer-causing substances,” Nenon said.