Marijuana devastated the lives of the Harper family when their son started experimenting with the drug in high school before moving on to heroin.
“We went through hell with my son. He advanced from marijuana to heroin,” Harper said at a city council meeting Tuesday night. Harper’s wife, who spoke before him, noted that nothing in her son’s life improved after he started consuming marijuana.
At the meeting to discuss lifting the ban on the sale of edible marijuana products, the Harpers were among the few community members supporting the ban.
Janiese Stevens, the owner of Wildflower, a retail store on Near Island, was one of the business owners opposing the ban. She said edibles are already in the community, and are untaxed and unregulated.
“Individuals making THC edibles on their own do not have access to testing, so milligrams of THC can vary extremely from one piece to the next,” Stevens said about the safety of people making their own edibles.
She also noted that many people like to ingest rather than smoke marijuana.
“Some claim it helps alleviate pain more effectively, and others prefer to go the healthier route and not inhale or smoke,” she said.
The Alaska Department of Public Health defines marijuana edibles as foods and drinks that are made with marijuana or marijuana oils. These foods include a range of baked goods, drinks, oils, butter and tinctures. Tinctures can be consumed by holding them under the tongue while the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is absorbed directly into the bloodstream.
In Alaska, non-medical marijuana use of all types is legal only for adults 21 years and older. That includes smoking, vaping, dabbing or consuming marijuana.
According to council members, the overwhelming community support for allowing the sale of edibles is a big change from discussions that took place about a year ago, when locals were mostly against it.
“The majority of the consensus was not for it, so (the city council) listened to the community,” said Council Member Randall Bishop, who added that he would support the sale of edibles now that many community members support it.
Out of the 21 public comments, 18 were pro and three were against, Bishop said.
Council Member Terry Haines also said he would support the ordinance because of how his mother has benefited from edibles.
“Eating marjuana cookies is the only thing that has brought her relief, and she has been able to get off of these serious drugs. She is healthier. She sleeps a lot better,” Haines said.
Although he admits that people could have issues with marijuana because of “bad experiences with other kinds of drugs,” he said he believes the benefits outweigh the potential risks.
Council members Rich Walker and Charlie Davidson also said they would support the sale of edibles in the city of Kodiak because of its medicinal uses.
“I would support this, (while) at the same time educating our youth about the dangers of the other types of drugs that prevail and what it does to limit your learning capacity at an early age,” Davidson said.
The only ambivalent opinion was expressed by Council Member John Whiddon, who said he does not know yet if he will support repealing the ban.
Whiddon said that while he understood the economic benefit to selling edibles, like larger profit margins for businesses and more tax revenue, he was concerned about children gaining access to the products.
“There should be an education piece that goes with this (ordinance) to mitigate the public safety concerns,” he said. “It would be irresponsible for us to improve access to edibles in the community without some form of education.”
If the council approves repealing the ban, city staff will draft a new ordinance rescinding the ban. The ordinance will have to be passed two times before implementation. According to the city clerk’s office, the process could take up to two months.