Future of Valdez marijuana sales hangs in balance

Cannabis Plant. (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Cannabis plant (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Last fall, history was made in Valdez. The state’s first marijuana retail store opened its doors to all buyers. Now, the future of the store is in the hands of voters. Residents face Ballot Proposition 1 in the upcoming municipal election.

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It was only last October when Michael Holcombe made the first purchase at Herbal Outfitters.

Six months later, business has been steady Alaska’s first retail marijuana store.

Derek Morris is the General Manager of Herbal Outfitters. He said despite some obstacles other retail marijuana stores in the state have faced, he said the store has been able to stay open seven days a week.

“We are still currently serving all of the local Valdezians in addition to our out-of-town visitors ranging from the Copper Center Basin to Glennallen all the way up to Anchorage, Fairbanks,” Morris said. “We even had individuals down from Nome.”

Now, Herbal Outfitters has another hurdle to jump. This time it’s the voters in Valdez. If the voters say yes to Ballot Proposition 1, this spring, the store and other marijuana license holders would have to take their businesses outside the city limits.

Carl Hedman is Pastor of Valdez Assembly of God Chruch and lead sponsor of the petition that got Prop 1 on the ballot. In an interview last spring, Hedman said as a pastor he has spiritual concerns about the use and sale of marijuana in town, but also said that wasn’t the reason why he started the petition.

“I believe that any drug use whether it be Schedule I drugs or lower scheduled drugs or even alcohol have negative impacts on families and individuals,” Hedman said.

Hedman also believes that there are other ways to develop the local economy without the promotion of drug use.

“I’m all on board for the winter tourism, the WESC that have come to our city. I support them,” Hedman said. “The basketball tournaments. Quite often, when the hotels are full we open up the church for teams that have no other place to stay. So, we’re here to help people develop economically. But, I think there are limits to what we should do to promote a strong economy.”

Here’s what happens if Prop 1 passes. Herbal Outfitters would have 90 days after the vote to shut its doors and close down the business. All marijuana licenses would be banned within the city limit plus another ten miles. That means if Herbal Outfitters wants reopen, it would basically have to setup shop on Thompson Pass.

Morris said he and the owners have discussed the scenario, but are more focused on keeping the store in town.

“At this time we can’t say if we would move out town or not because the finances involved in that are just something we haven’t looked at and actually grasped what the reality would be,” Morris said.

If Prop 1 doesn’t pass, Hedman, who is also running for City Council on the same ballot, said that he would not contest the issue. The Valdez Municipal Election is Tuesday, May 2nd.

Tony Gorman is a reporter at KCHU in Valdez.

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