JUNEAU, Alaska — Regulators were applauded Thursday as they approved the first licenses for legal Alaska marijuana growing and testing facilities — another milestone for the fledgling industry.
Priority was being given to growing and testing operations to ensure that retail stores will have legal product to sell. The first retail licenses are expected to be issued later this year.
Thirty applications were on the agenda Thursday at a meeting of the Marijuana Control Board in Anchorage. Two were for testing facilities. The rest were for grow operations.
The first application approved came from CannTest LLC of Anchorage, a marijuana testing facility. The action was greeted by applause and cheers.
“That’s history right there, folks,” board member Brandon Emmett said.
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Businesses that were granted licenses still need to clear national background checks and, in some cases, complete local requirements.
Mark Malagodi, CEO of CannTest LLC, said it felt good. “It’s just the first hurdle,” he said. “It’s a big one and it’s really exciting.”
Testing facilities will play an important role in the industry because cultivators and processors must have their product tested for such things as potency and potential toxins.
It’s not yet clear how many testing facilities the industry will need because the amount of product to be examined has not yet been determined, board member Bruce Schulte said Wednesday. Alaska needs at least one functioning lab, he said.
“Whether the right number is two or four or one, that remains to be seen,” said Schulte, who served as board chair until Thursday, when a new chair was elected.
Both businesses approved for testing licenses are in Anchorage. But getting samples to the labs could be tricky for businesses in communities not connected to the road system.
Marijuana has been legalized in Alaska but is still prohibited under federal law.
Cynthia Franklin, director of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board, said she’s not sure the state will get a definitive answer from the U.S. Postal Service about shipping by mail.
She noted, however, that state regulations authorize the transport marijuana samples from a licensed facility to a licensed testing site. An accompanying transportation manifest would make clear the items are being sent in compliance with state regulations, she said.
Franklin also noted that in Portland, Oregon, where recreational pot is also legal, the airport permits people to transport marijuana within the state and federal officials haven’t moved in to stop the practice.
Jeremy Woodrow, a spokesman for the state ferry system, said it’s in a tough spot because it’s regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard. Ferry officials have tried to be as lenient as possible within the confines of the state law, allowing travelers to carry pot that meets personal use limits of one ounce or less, he said.
Use on board is banned and any larger amounts could be reported to the Coast Guard, he said.
The system isn’t telling anyone not to bring marijuana on board but anyone who does needs to know the risk, he said.
Bobbie Egan, a spokeswoman for Alaska Airlines, said the airline has no formal policy at this time but it is something that is being evaluated.