Should people smoke and eat edibles at pot cafes? Anchorage voters will decide

Marijuana for sale at a dispensary in California. (Photo: Dank Depot via Flickr Creative Commons)
Marijuana for sale at a dispensary in California. (Photo: Dank Depot via Flickr Creative Commons)

Anchorage is inching toward legalizing cannabis cafes. But first, voters will have to weigh in at the ballot.

Tuesday night the Anchorage Assembly voted to allow residents to decide whether or not Alaska’s largest city should host businesses where people can smoke or eat pot products. The election will be held this spring.

“Marijuana is a visible part of our city now, we see marijuana shops, and we should give thee public an opportunity to weigh in on this issue,” said assembly member Meg Zalatel.

She supported the measure in a 7-to-4 vote, with opposition from Crystal Kennedy, Fred Dyson, Suzanne LaFrance and Kameron Perez-Verdia.

For months, the Anchorage Assembly has weighed whether or not they’ll adopt rules for local cannabis businesses to set-up on-site consumption areas where customers can use the pot products they buy in stores. Though generally supportive of allowing businesses to apply to state regulators for an endorsement, local officials couldn’t figure out how to handle the city’s strict rules around in-door smoking, secondhand smoke, and employee protections.

Now, they’ll let voters decide whether regulated spaces for customers to light up are acceptable.

“Instead of the Assembly making the decision whether the use of marijuana by inhalation or smoking in consumption areas at licensed retail marijuana establishments should be legal within the Municipality, this ordinance presents that question to the voters at the April 2020 election,” reads the assembly memorandum.

“Trust the voters with this question,” said Jahna Weltzin, an attorney who represents different cannabis businesses in Alaska and spoke in favor of the measure.

Most members of the public who offered testimony were opposed to the ordinance, with many saying it will reverse progress the city and state have made combating the negative health consequences from first- and second-hand smoke. Others focused on the risks of exposure for employees working in businesses where on-site consumption takes place.

“Why would you put it to the public to vote on considering a separate class of employees?” asked Heather Arrono with the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network. She opposed the prospect of in-door smoking, as well as the move to allow voters to make a decision that could create a “less healthy, more hazardous working environment” for some employees.

As the measure lays it out, customers would be able to purchase up to one gram of marijuana bud or flower to smoke on-site, or an edible product with up to 10 milligrams of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Businesses will be required to post signs about the health risks, age restrictions, and federal prohibitions on marijuana.

Provisions within the ballot measure lay out how employees at cannabis retail shops will be protected from secondhand smoke exposure mostly by not being on-hand as products are being used, as well as through ventilation systems.

Several communities across Alaska are grappling with whether or not to allow local retailers to apply for an on-site consumption endorsement from the state, which has not started permitting the process yet.

Zachariah Hughes reports on city & state politics, arts & culture, drugs, and military affairs in Anchorage and South Central Alaska.

@ZachHughesAK About Zachariah

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