On-site cannabis use at specially licensed retail establishments may be coming to Alaska as soon as this summer, thanks new regulations officially approved by Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer on March 12.
Under the new regs, laid out in a memorandum now bearing the lieutenant governor’s signature, licensed retailers will be able to apply with state overseers for an additional “on-site consumption endorsement.”
The Alaska Marijuana Control Board approved the rules back in December. The regulations then had to pass muster by the state Department of Law before arriving on Meyer’s desk.
“The big news is, the suspense is over,” an enthused Mark Springer, chair of the Control Board, told Anchorage Daily News. “I’m sure there is a lot of excitement in the industry today.”
A Social Justice Question
Many in the advocacy community also share in the elation. “When these rules go into effect, Alaska will be the first state to finalize and approve statewide rules for on-site consumption. We expect more to follow suit in the not too distant future,” said Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML.
“Allowing social consumption is sensible from a business perspective, particularly for states with large amounts of tourists who otherwise have no place to legally consume, but it also has an important social justice component,” Altieri stressed.
With “social consumption” restricted by state laws, many patients “have to choose between effective cannabis treatment for their ailments or being thrown out of public housing,” Altieri elaborated. Section 8 housing residents are officially barred from using cannabis in their own homes, for instance. Therefore, “the civil liberties that come with marijuana legalization [are] still being kept at arms’ length from low-income individuals and members of other marginalized communities.”
Summer Sales Anticipated
Under the new rules, areas where customers can partake on-site will have to be separate from other parts of the store, with a ventilation system in place. A smoke-free space for employees to monitor the consumption area must be maintained. Cannabis consumed on-site must be purchased on-site, not brought in from elsewhere.
The Control Board must review all applications, and its next meeting is scheduled for early May. So, while the new regs officially take effect April 11, that does not leave enough turn-around time for businesses to have their applications ready for submission, according to Erika McConnell, director of the Alcohol & Marijuana Control Office, the Control Board’s parent body.
“In theory, operations could begin shortly after that meeting, but it will depend on the circumstances of each individual application, of course,” McConnell told the Associated Press. She said the first on-site consumption sales would probably begin in the summer.
Municipalities will be empowered to limit on-site consumption by local vote, or to challenge applications in certain circumstances.
Denver and California Testing the Waters
While Alaska is the first to go statewide with an on-site consumption policy, some localities in states legalization states in the Lower 48 have already been pursuing such a model — most notably Denver and West Hollywood.
Denver’s Cannabis Consumption Establishment licensing program has only issued one such permit so far, according to local weekly Westword. A bill that would have allowed dispensary “tasting rooms” was actually passed by the Colorado General Assembly, but was last June vetoed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Several Denver retailers, however, have worked around the state law by operating private lounges as “event spaces.”
California’s Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulatory Safety Act (MAUCRSA), which took effect on New Year’s Day 2018, does allow localities to authorize on-site consumption at state-licensed retail outlets, without special state oversight. However, cities like West Hollywood and San Francisco are among just a few in the state to have taken advantage of this.
Final Frontier Back in the Vanguard
Alaska seems poised to pursue this model far more ambitiously.
This is not the first time Alaska has been in the vanguard of cannabis liberation in the United States. In 1975, Alaska’s supreme court struck down the state’s marijuana laws on privacy grounds, effectively instating the country’s most liberal decrim policy — even allowing growing of small quantities.
In 1990, on the tail-end of the Reagan-era anti-drug backlash, Alaska voters overturned the decriminalization policy in a referendum. But in 2003, Alaska’s courts struck down the recriminalization law on privacy grounds. This effectively made it permissible to possess personal quantities again, although a new and less restrictive recriminalization passed in 2006 was upheld by the state’s courts. Finally, in 2014, Alaska voters approved Measure 2, actually legalizing adult-use cannabis and returning the Last Frontier to the trail it blazed back in 1975.
TELL US, would you travel to Alaska for the on-site consumption perks?