Kenai Peninsula residents overwhelmingly turned out in support of establishing cannabis agribusiness in the borough, or at least not restricting it too much this early in the game.
Kalifornsky representative Kelly Wolf put forward the ordinance that sparked the debate. It would ask voters in the municipal election this fall to decide whether or not to prohibit marijuana cultivation outside city limits, in unincorporated areas, of the borough.
This was just the first reading. Kenai representative Blaine Gilman explained that’s when the assembly chooses to introduce it or not.
“I think it’s important that people realize that introduction of an ordinance is not the same thing as saying you’re going to support it,” said Gilman. “What it is in support of is due process. And so, when you don’t vote to introduce something, you’re basically saying we don’t want the issue heard.”
Although this was not the official public hearing, the public was entitled to comment on the agenda item. For two hours, dozens of residents voiced their thoughts.
All but a couple opposed restricting cultivation, but their reasoning was split into a few distinct camps. There were those who didn’t want the borough to make any decisions before the state moved forward, those who supported legalization and therefore the process, those who saw economic benefits of agribusiness, and those who simply didn’t want the government restricting freedom of choice outside city limits.
The assembly introduced the ordinance. Though, there was some confusion on both sides of the room about the nature of the public comment period and the fact that the assembly couldn’t comment on the topic at this time. Both the assembly and residents like John Dykstra seemed to take the bumps in good humor as byproducts of such a hot topic.
“I just want to thank you guys for enduring through this evening—the hearing that wasn’t supposed to be a hearing, we could call it,” said Dykstra. “I just wanted to go ahead and leave it with one more point. When you go home this evening, think about the passion that people brought here tonight because that’s what this subject invokes.”
Homer representative Kelly Cooper said it’s time for the assembly to do its homework. Then, it can return in February with a deeper understanding of both the proposed restrictions and the larger topic of cannabis regulation and industry.
“They were trying to tell us to do our research and it’s not as simple as a quick Google [search],” said Cooper. “We have to meet with the people on both sides; we have to become educated. So, I took that as a plea from our constituents to learn about what we’re voting on.”
At that point, there will be the actual public hearing and the assembly will decide whether to put the issue on the fall ballot or table the discussion until a later date.
The next meeting of the borough assembly is scheduled for February 3rd. The next look at the marijuana ordinance will be February 24th.