Borough ban angers cannabis council

Cannabis vendors in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough have been put on hold for the time being. A contentious ordinance approved by the Mat-Su Assembly this week restricts all marijuana business activity, with one exception, until after an October Borough election. The moratorium is not to the liking of entrepreneurs banking on the Valley’s potential customer base.

Two weeks ago, Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman Randall Kowalke introduced an ordinance placing a temporary ban on marijuana establishments within the Borough.
The move caused an outcry among cannabis business owners, who are working legally under state regulations to establish pot retail or growing facilities there.
Kowalke says concerns about regulating commercial operations in residential neighborhoods prompted his legislation.

“We have the authority to add our local conditions within our municipality, and we are working on doing that. The difficulty has been in an area that doesn’t essentially have zoning, to determine what a residential area is. There seems to be universal agreement on folks wanting to keep these operations out of residential areas, be we have had difficulty defining that.”

At this week’s Borough Assembly meeting, Kowalke’s ordinance was approved, as amended by Assemblyman Jim Sykes. At the tail end of a six hour meeting on Tuesday, Sykes proposed an exception for grow operations, allowing an August 17th moratorium expiration date for them only. That and two other minor amendments in language gained Assembly approval, while a later vote for reconsideration on Tuesday was not successful.

But Sykes now says recent information on how soon state permits will be available is prompting another change. He says he’ll back a second reconsideration of the Borough ordinance, to remove his amendments and bring the Mat-Su code more in line with state pot regulations.

“It looks like the time line is going to stretch until at least September, and that’s very close to when the election is. I don’t think anyone can get a crop out in that amount of time, even if they did have all their permits. So this is a cleaner way to do it, if we just take Mr. Kowalke’s original idea and let it go to October.”

State permits for pot businesses would not be available before September, a date close to the Borough’s October 4 local election, when Borough voters will decide whether or not to ban retail pot. The moratorium sunsets on October 19, the day  the Borough election is certified.

The second reconsideration of the ordinance, filed Wednesday by Assemblyman Matthew Beck, is expected to come before the Borough Assembly soon.

Sara Williams, who chairs the Borough’s Marijuana Advisory Council, says the amendments don’t matter, anyway, now that the Borough has approved the temporary moratorium for most pot endeavors. She says state regulations could allow cultivation by July, but a ban in the Mat-Su will discourage investors, since now there will be no hope of a pot crop from the Valley this year. And, she says, the ban may influence the October vote.

“We don’t exactly know what is going to happen in Alaska, and until it happens, I don’t believe the voter can make a truly educated choice about whether they want to allow it or not, until they see it And the moratorium doesn’t give them the opportunity to get educated about what it is going to look like.”

Although cannabis entrepreneurs with plans for Valley businesses are reacting strongly against the temporary moratorium, Kowalke says it is better to get residential guidelines in place while a code of Borough marijuana regulations is still on the drawing board.

“My goal was to try to sort through this. I have a friend here in the area who has suffered terribly with cancer. The only pain relief they’ve had is from marijuana. I’m concerned about their ability to have it available. I know another person who is trying to open a business. If we adopt our current set of local regulations, he will not be allowed to do his business. I don’t want to happen, because this is in fact the state law.”

Mat Su marijuana regulations are under consideration at this time, pending input by the Borough Planning Commission and the Marijuana Advisory Council.

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APTI Reporter-Producer Ellen Lockyer started her radio career in the late 1980s, after a stint at bush Alaska weekly newspapers, the Copper Valley Views and the Cordova Times. When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Valdez Public Radio station KCHU needed a reporter, and Ellen picked up the microphone.
Since then, she has literally traveled the length of the state, from Attu to Eagle and from Barrow to Juneau, covering Alaska stories on the ground for the AK show, Alaska News Nightly, the Alaska Morning News and for Anchorage public radio station, KSKA
elockyer (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8446 | About Ellen

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