Problems with Mat-Su code could lead to pot shop in Talkeetna

An oversight in Mat-Su Borough code could allow a marijuana store to open on Talkeetna’s Main Street without a conditional use permit from the borough. At public meetings this week, some Talkeetnans expressed their concerns and asked the Mat-Su Borough Assembly to step in.

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Since the legalization of recreational marijuana by Alaska voters in 2014, municipalities and the state have crafted regulations and tax structures for how to govern the new industry. In October, Mat-Su Borough voters rejected a ballot question that would ban commercial marijuana. In other areas of the state, the process is further along. Sara Williams of the borough’s marijuana advisory committee told the Mat-Su Borough Assembly that 23 licenses for commercial marijuana facilities were issued statewide on Tuesday, including three cultivation facilities in the Mat-Su. Williams said that retail facilities are still months away due to borough permitting requirements.

“We won’t see retail stores in the Mat-Su until early next year some time,” Williams said. “We’ll probably see the first one, I think, on the planning commission’s docket in March.”

That timeline could be accelerated, however. Marijuana facilities within the Mat-Su are required to obtain a conditional use permit from the borough. The way the code currently reads, however, facilities already inside a special land use district are exempt from the requirement. One retail facility planned for Downtown Talkeetna, named The High Expedition, fits that exemption.

At the Talkeetna Community Council meeting on Monday, five people, including area resident Beth Valentine, expressed concern that a retail marijuana shop could open on Main Street without borough approval.

“There’s a loophole,” Valentine said. “We want to see conditional use permits. That’s what’s being required throughout the whole borough, and I want to see it for Main Street, so that it goes before this board and you make a decision.”

The message of those speaking out for closure of the loophole and further public process was coupled with opposition to the idea of commercial marijuana in Downtown Talkeetna. Beth Valentine and fellow Talkeetna resident Geri McCann want the Mat-Su Borough Assembly to ask for a freeze on the licensing process for facilities that fall under the loophole until it can be closed. McCann said the borough is responsible for the loophole, and should take action.

“You have not protected us adequately. We are asking you to rectify your error and not have us deal with it,” McCann said. “We have a right to say what goes on in Downtown Talkeetna right next to a public park.”

An amendment to close the loophole for the small number of proposed marijuana facilities inside special land use districts was referred to the Mat-Su Borough Planning Commission at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. Deputy Borough Mayor Matthew Beck says it’s possible the assembly could have the amendment back for a potential final vote by its next meeting on December 20th. If final approval or a moratorium occurs before The High Expedition receives a state license, then it would have to follow the borough’s permit requirement as well.

Joe McAneney, one half of the partnership hoping to open The High Expedition in Talkeetna, said those speaking out are misinformed, and that a requirement for a conditional use permit will not keep his business from opening its doors.

“I am fully prepared to do the paperwork. I’ve looked at it. I don’t not meet any of the requirements, so the conditional use permit, even if I do not have to fill it out, will not prevent the dispensary from opening,” McAneney said. “That’s black and white.”

Joe McAneney has been a regular at Talkeetna Community Council meetings this year. The first time he addressed the council, McAneney said his intention is to be open and transparent about his plans. After Tuesday’s borough assembly meeting, he says the borough permit process would mean an extra permitting fees and additional time, but remains confident that a retail shop in on Talkeetna’s Main Street will open in the near future.

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