Bethel limits alcohol, rejects pot restrictions, reopening public debate about addiction

An aerial view of Bethel. (Creative Commons photo by Holy Trinity Orthodox Church)

Bethel is likely returning to damp status. Unofficial results from the election earlier this week show Bethel re-entering local option for alcohol sales. Under local option, voters have chosen to make furnishing alcohol to someone under age 21 a felony. In the same election, voters rejected entering marijuana local option and cast ballots for Bethel City Council candidates, favoring the challengers over the incumbents.

When Seth O’Brien walked into the cultural center Tuesday, the decision was easy. He voted yes on Proposition 1. He wants the liquor stores to close.  

“It’s so destructive. There’s family grieving, people are dying, and our community has definitely felt the strong negative effects of the liquor stores,” O’Brien said.

Related: Utqiagvik voters reject soda tax

O’Brien said that he knows people will still be able to get alcohol from bootleggers. “But we don’t need to enhance the problem. We don’t need to make the problem worse.”

Still, many people in Bethel believe alcohol use is a personal responsibility. 

“They blame the liquor store, you know, you gotta be a responsible drinker,” said voter Alonzo Francis. “My brother died last June. Drowned in the Kuskokwim River. And I don’t blame the liquor store, I blame him for drinking. Irresponsibility, that’s it.”

But others think people should be responsible for more than just themselves. 

“Our community has to take responsibility for how our behavior here affects what happens in local villages, and the sale of alcohol has been a big problem,” said Mark Hoelsken.

Sixty-two percent of voters said yes to Proposition 1, which will put Bethel back into local option status for alcohol. Fifty-four percent of Bethel residents voted down Proposition 2, which means furnishing alcohol to someone under age 21 will be a felony. In an even closer vote, 53 percent of Bethel residents also voted down Proposition 3: marijuana local option. That means marijuana stores can be opened in Bethel. Many who voted for alcohol local option also voted for marijuana local option.

“As a former addict of marijuana, it was very destructive to my health, and mental health, physical, social,” said O’Brien.

However, the majority of voters aren’t as concerned about the effects of marijuana as they are about alcohol. 

“I don’t care about the marijuana,” said Simeon Charlie. “Because there’s no, it’s not like alcohol.”

At least one marijuana store, ALASKAbuds, plans to open later this year. At least three more stores have applied for a retail marijuana license in Bethel. 

Voters at the election also selected their Bethel City Council members. All three female candidates won seats. Here are all the candidates ordered by number of votes: Haley Hanson came in first with 801 votes. Alyssa Gustafson-Leary followed with 764. Mark Springer came in third with 661. Cece Franko took the last open seat with 587 votes. Raymond “Thor” Williams got 535 votes, and Fritz Charles received 433.

Williams’ fifth place position may be enough to keep him on city council. Council member Carole Jung-Jordan resigned last week, and the new council will determine how to fill her 1-year term at the next regular meeting on Oct. 8.

That same day, city council will also certify the official results of the election. The turnout for this year’s election was 28 percent of eligible voters in Bethel.

Previous articleAlaska soldiers injured in training exercise
Next articleAmid a big fight for cod in the Bering Sea, can remote Adak survive?