This past Thursday’s borough assembly meeting had only one item on its agenda: a presentation and discussion of the borough’s (not city’s) Marijuana Task Force recommendations for setting up commercial marijuana businesses on Kodiak. Specific areas addressed in these recommendations included the growing of marijuana plants, the industrial manufacturing process to produce an end-product pharmaceutical (e.g. joints, edibles, lotions, shampoos, acne treatments, etc.), testing and sales. Issues such a taxing, license fees, zoning requirements, exclusion zones and the like were some specific items of discussion. The meeting was long (four hours), tedious and sparsely attended by the public.
The nature of the assembly discussion focused on two themes. First, the electorate of Alaska having voted to legalize marijuana use, the assembly sees its job to provide a legal framework for the sale of marijuana-based products in this borough. That is, the public has spoken and it is now up to the borough to respond. Second, marijuana sales now reside in an unregulated and untaxed black market and it is the desire of the assembly to bring marijuana sales into the light and eradicate the black market in cannabis-based commodities.
Two major encumbrances facing the assembly in this effort are, firstly, based upon the evening’s discussion, collectively the borough assembly knows next to nothing about various aspects of the production and sales of marijuana. Thus, seemingly at least once every five minutes of discussion, one or another assembly member would ask the borough manager for “more detailed information” about this or that, to the point that one could only conclude that Mr. Powers has nothing else to do with his time than to answer assembly questions on details of marijuana product production.
Secondly, in all fairness to the assembly, the state guidelines for legalizing marijuana sales are deliberately ambiguous, contradictory, inconsistent and incomplete — in short, a mess. And having failed to establish a coherent state framework to guide municipalities in their deliberations, the state has thrown its hands into the air and told municipalities, “You take it from here” (and you pay legal expenses for the predictable court challenges to your new ordinances, policies and other legislation).
With these underlying themes, the borough assembly began discussions on task force recommendations for regulations on the four major areas of the marijuana business: cultivation, industrial processing, testing and sales.
The meeting began with an hour-and-a-half discussion of licenses, fees and taxes. The most salient comment from the assembly came from assembly member Symmons, who noted that to be successful at bringing marijuana sales into the light, the assembly should assure that the costs of doing business do not drive up the costs of legitimate marijuana products so that they cannot compete with lower black market prices.
The most controversial item at the meeting was whether commercial growing should be allowed in certain residential zones, namely RR1 and RR2 (See borough code 17.70), both of which allow for “general agricultural purposes” but which prohibit “commercial and industrial land uses.” Several citizens spoke against allowing commercial growing operations in these zones, noting that marijuana plants emit a “lush, skunky smell” that many people find offensive. Marijuana Task Force members in the audience also noted that in their discussions.
I thought the best comment from the assembly came from member Dave Townsend, who proposed the assembly accept the borough Marijuana Task Force recommendations as presented for an initial period, to see how they worked. Then, if modifications proved necessary, discuss making changes at a later time.
I thought this a meritorious proposal, although more thought needs to be put into the foreseeable deleterious effects of marijuana cultivation and processing on one’s neighbors and one’s neighborhood.
All of which, of course, is just my opinion.
Jeff Stewart is a retired project manager and former member of the KIBSD Board of Education.