JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska marijuana regulators will resume the on-again, off-again debate over onsite pot consumption in retail stores Wednesday amid a rejection of the concept from the state’s top medical officer.
The Alaska Marijuana Control Board began mulling — and preparing for — onsite use of marijuana in 2015, following voter approval of recreational use of pot by those 21 and older.
Members peppered regulations with references to onsite use and worked on rules for how that would be carried out. The board veered away from the visions some had of Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes, instead proposing that retail stores cordon off separate rooms for onsite use.
Retail stores began selling pot late last year, and many expected the board to sign off on the final regulations before this summer’s tourist season got underway, giving them time to get their shops ready for the million or more tourists that make summer treks to Alaska. The industry hoped to capitalize on cruise ship passengers interested in spending at least part of their shore excursions lighting up or snarfing edible marijuana products.
But instead, in February, the board decided to abandon onsite use, citing uncertainty over how the Department of Justice under President Donald Trump would handle marijuana, which is legal in eight states but still illegal at the federal level.
Just as abruptly as the board scuttled the proposal, a month later they voted to open the process again, inviting members to submit proposed new regulations.
Only one made the deadline. It was submitted by Juneau resident Loren Jones, who holds the board’s public health seat.
He’s proposing a two-year moratorium for onsite use of marijuana, saying Alaska shouldn’t be the first state with onsite use.
“I don’t think we need to rush into that,” he said.
He also cited comments submitted to the board by Jay Butler, the state’s chief medical officer, who is also opposed to onsite use.
Butler said the onsite use of marijuana raises health concerns, such as secondhand smoke and driver impairment.
“Even though marijuana is not the same as tobacco smoke, there’s a lot that we don’t know about it,” Butler told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “Clinically, we see signs of it being a respiratory irritant in people who smoke frequently.”
Two other board members, Brandon Emmett of Fairbanks and Chairman Peter Mlynarik of Soldotna, also submitted proposals but both missed the deadline, said Erika McConnell, the state marijuana office director.
She has suggested the board take up Jones’ proposal first. The other two proposals would allow varying degrees of onsite use.
Emmett’s would use the previously abandoned draft as a starting point for discussion of what onsite consumption could look like while Mlynarik’s would not allow smoking or vaping.
Given the boomerang trajectory that onsite use proposals have had so far, Emmett didn’t hazard a guess as to what might happen.
“I honestly don’t know which way it’s going to go,” Emmett said.
If the board decides to move forward with a use proposal, don’t plan on lighting up anytime soon. It will have to go out for at least 30 days of public comment.