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No pot shops will be permitted downtown


Submitted Illustration

The dark areas in this map, created by Petersburg Police Chief Kelly Swihart and Mapping/GIS technician Molly Taiber, show areas where a commercially licensed marijuana establishment would likely be restricted from operating, according to the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board's adopted regulations. The distance of 500 feet from marijuana establishments must be measured by the shortest pedestrian route from the public entrance of the building in which the licensed premises would be located to the outer boundaries of a school, recreation or youth center (which includes playgrounds), or the main public entrance of the building in which religious services are regularly conducted, or a correctional facility. A "correctional facility", according to state statue is defined as "premises, or a portion of premises, used for the confinement of persons under official detention."

Marijuana dispensaries can't set up shop in downtown Peterburg based on Alaska's Alcohol Beverage Control Board's (ABC's) recent adopted marijuana license restrictions.

According to the adopted regulations, the ABC Board won't issue a marijuana establishment license "if the licensed premises will be located within 500 feet of a school grounds, a recreation youth center, a building in which religious services are regularly conducted, or a correctional facility."

Those restrictions eliminate Petersburg's downtown but could allow for commercial shops on portions of Haugen Drive near Hammer and Wikan Grocery or South Nordic Drive near Joan Mei.

Petersburg's Marijuana Regulation Advisory Committee voted last week to send a letter to the state's Alcohol Beverage Control Board asking for more local control of marijuana industry boundaries.

Committee member Nancy Strand said it's easier to dictate a 500-foot radius in big cities than it is in small towns.

"This is unacceptable, totally unacceptable to have our whole entire downtown area (blocked)...if we want to regulate and keep an eye on things; dispensaries and pot shops and clubs should be right on Main Street where they can be seen," Strand said.

Committee chair Jeigh Stanton Gregor said he thinks the 500 feet boundary is too restrictive, but doubted a letter would change things.

"In my own humble opinion a letter to them won't do us any good in that regard," Stanton Gregor said. "To put it simply, it's been vetted several times over."

To put it more simply, it's too little too late. A letter is likely a mute point because the ABC Board has sent its final adopted marijuana industry regulations to the Department of Law for technical review before the Lt. Governor signs off on them.

Scott Meriwether, special assistant in the Lt. Governor's office, said the Department of Law is reviewing the regulations not for content but to make sure the regulations don't conflict with established law or statute.

"They (Dept. of Law) check the regulations for standards in the code, not focusing on the content but more of a technical publishing type of review," Meriwether said. "The regulations can't implement something if it's not allowed by law."

Last spring, Petersburg Mayor Mark Jensen tasked the Petersburg Marijuana Advisory Committee with providing recommendations to the Petersburg Borough Assembly in order to draft a local marijuana ordinance. During last week's meeting only ten of the 17-member committee attended and since the committee's formation last spring they've met three times, including last week, and no recommendations have been formalized. In a separate interview, Stanton Gregor said he wanted to wait for the regulations to come from the state in November, and give committee members an opportunity to read them before meeting. But during Petersburg's December 9 meeting, several of the committee members admitted to not reading some or any of the regulations and others thought the regulations were still in draft form and able to be changed. Public comment on the draft regulations ended in November.

Juneau's Marijuana Advisory Committee has met 16 times since its formation. Sitka's Marijuana Advisory Committee meets weekly, 12 times since it's formation, and a similar Ketchikan committee has met 11 times. Petersburg's advisory committee is also divided into subcommittees. Two of those subgroups have met once and another has met twice.

Sitka's marijuana advisory committee has formalized recommendations regarding zoning changes, specifically looking at providing conditional use permits to licensed marijuana establishments, allowing them to be set up in various zoning areas beyond those zoned commercial.

The City and Borough of Sitka and Wrangell Assemblies have both passed marijuana public consumption ordinances, along with several other municipal governments across the state. Wrangell's Borough Assembly has no advisory committee.

No future meeting dates for the committee as a whole have been set. The advisory committee sub groups were directed to meet, but no dates have been determined as of the writing of this article.

The ABC board must start accepting commercial marijuana license applications on February 24, 2016 and act on them within 90 days of receiving the applications.

March 16, 2016 is the tentative effective date of the regulations.

The ABC board is expected to award marijuana industry licenses on May 24.

Petersburg Borough Clerk Debbie Thompson said she might get the ball rolling on creating language.

"I may be drafting an ordinance if I don't hear something from the committee soon and put it before them," Thompson said. "I know that we need to get going on it."

Any marijuana ordinance will take three readings, roughly six weeks, to pass.


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