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Cannabusiness: Alaska Still Figuring Out Legal Pot

On November 14, Alaska’s voters declared “Hell, yes” to Measure 2, thereby legalizing marijuana for recreational use in this, the nation’s largest and coolest state. But although Alaska will now join Washington, Oregon and Colorado among the ranks of the enlightened, the ink was barely dry on the new law before local governments moved to forestall or even reject its implementation within their jurisdictions, since Measure 2 includes an “opt out” provision.

In Juneau, the city assembly approved a six-month moratorium on marijuana-related businesses, which means that Juneau will not issue land-use or other permits until October (six months after the legislature’s scheduled end), putting growers, retailers and other cannabusinesses on hold.

One critic of that decision is Juneau bartender Ben Wilcox, a grower and vocal pot activist who is looking to expand his modest personal medical crop with the new law’s rollout. “The longer you keep us out of the business,” Wilcox says, “the longer illegitimate dealers will keep their foothold.” When towns like Juneau put the brakes on legalization, he adds, they run the risk of marginalizing themselves. “It’s going to come, no matter what. The question is: Do they want to have a say in how it happens?”

Although the first stage of the new law is about to take effect (on February 24, residents will be able to consume marijuana for recreational purposes), issues surrounding Measure 2’s practical application—growing, distributing, selling and, of course, smoking—have not yet been sorted out.

There is some logic to the wait-and-see approach, but every passing day means lost income, at least for law-abiding businesses, and lost revenue for the state. The Alaska Cannabis Institute estimates that legal weed will eventually bring in more than $20 million a year in taxes.

“We’re definitely going to have some fights,” Wilcox predicts. For one thing, the size and distribution of Alaska’s population centers will make delivering pot a real challenge. “As a state, we have a lot of transportation issues.”

The good news, aside from Measure 2’s passage, is that a significant chunk of the state’s formerly underground cannabis commerce will soon be out and proud—just not as soon as many had hoped. And that means more jobs, more revenue for the state’s coffers, a saner use of law-enforcement resources and a brand-new economy for Alaskans.

“There’s no lack of people wanting to be part of the industry,” Wilcox notes.

Even so, other parts of the state have been stalling as well. In Anchorage, assembly member (and mayoral wannabe) Amy Demboski floated an ordinance to ban the commercial sale of marijuana within city limits. Fortunately, the assembly voted it down (with even ordinance co-sponsor Dick Traini voting against it, according to the Alaska Dispatch News).

South of Fairbanks, the quaint little town of North Pole is also considering an opt-out, due to fears that a ganja-friendly vibe might not be compatible with this Christmas-themed community. (They’re wrong: The candy-cane-colored light poles are totally compatible.) The city council is mulling such a buzzkill this month.

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