Fairbanks City Council OKs application for Alaska’s first cannabis shop with onsite-consumption area

The Fairbanks City Council voted Monday to support a cannabis entrepreneur’s bid to open Alaska’s first on-site marijuana consumption facility. But the Anchorage business person who’s proposed the facility must first win an appeal from the state’s marijuana-regulating agency.

Cannabis retailer Lily Bosshart told council members before they voted that her business would provide tourists and other visitors a legal place to consume marijuana.

“It’ll take it out of public parks, it’ll take it out of hotels, it’ll take it out rentals cars and put it where it belongs – in an area where people are consenting and going with the specific purpose of on-site consumption,” she said.

The council postponed a decision on Bosshart’s application last month. But in Monday’s meeting, all six council members voted to support Bosshart’s application for a state-issued marijuana onsite-consumption endorsement license – or, more specifically, they voted to not oppose it. Their vote is contingent on her obtaining a certificate of occupancy from the city Building Department. That’s a routine requirement that Bosshart shouldn’t have a problem with. But she faces a much bigger challenge – winning an appeal of the state Marijuana Control Board’s denial of her application last month.

“We obviously don’t agree,” Bosshart said. “We wish there were five members on the board. We got a split decision, and the split decision goes negative, unfortunately.”

The four marijuana board members who heard her case split 2-to-2 over granting her onsite-consumption license. And according to the board’s rules, the license was not granted. Bosshart says only four of the board’s five seats have been occupied since January, when Gov. Mike Dunleavy removed member Brandon Emmett of Fairbanks. The position remained unfilled after Dunleavy’s replacement, former Fairbanks Council member Vivian Stiver, turned down the appointment over opposition based on her history of opposing marijuana.

The two marijuana board members who voted against Bosshart’s application said the building she proposed to use didn’t qualify as a freestanding structure, as outlined in state regulations. Bosshart told the City Council that it is a free-standing building that her business would share with a company that leased the ground floor to her, along with a parking lot, where her outside consumption area would be located.

She says two board members apparently based their negative votes on the fact that the building would be shared between the two businesses.

“There is no shared air between the upstairs and downstairs,” Bosshart said. “There’s no shared HVAC unit, and we’re not proposing any sort of on-site consumption indoors.”

The council was generally receptive to Bosshart’s case, though Councilmember Jerry Cleworth said he would’ve initially interpreted the statute the same way as did the two board members.

“When I always hear the word freestanding, I would’ve probably thought ‘No, you don’t comply,’ immediately,” Cleworth said. “But I haven’t read the rules.”

“So, if you read the statute, it defines very clearly what it means,” Bosshart replied. “And it does not say sole occupancy. It says no shared walls, no shared air. Which we don’t have.”

In an exchange with Councilmember David Pruhs, Bosshart suggested that the board may have ruled conservatively, because her onsite-consumption application is the first they’ve considered.

“I understand that being the first license to go before the board is a little nerve-wracking for them,” Bosshart said. “I don’t know…”

Pruhs interjected: “It’s been nerve-wracking for everyone else, the first time we’ve gone through with all this.”

Pruhs was among the councilmembers who supported including a provision for onsite consumption in the City Code when the issue came before the council in April.

Councilmember Shoshana Kun, another onsite-consumption advocate, cited the council’s decision in her encouraging remarks.

“Y’know we took a chance as a city to do this, Kun said, “so… thanks for your courage in putting your business money on the line to make it grow – no puns intended.”

Bosshart told the council she hopes the board will consider her request for an administrative hearing on her appeal of the decision during its November meeting.

Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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