Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board Fires Its Director

The board voted to fire the director it shares with state alcohol regulators.
Alaska's Marijuana Control Board Fires Its Director
Former Director of the state’s combined alcohol and marijuana control office Erika McConnell, left, sits with Marijuana board chairman Mark Springer in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/ Mark Thiessen)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The board that regulates Alaska’s legal marijuana industry voted Wednesday to fire the director it shares with state alcohol regulators, a move director Erika McConnell maintained lacked justification.

The Marijuana Control Board voted 3-2 to fire McConnell, following last month’s vote by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to dismiss her. Wednesday’s vote came at the end of a daylong meeting in Anchorage, with McConnell delivering a fiery speech in which she said Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration appeared to want her out before wishing members well for the remaining two days of meetings.

McConnell’s removal was subject to both boards agreeing.

Marijuana Control Board member Bruce Schulte said he had no unkind words about McConnell but thought a change in leadership was appropriate. Board chairman Mark Springer said McConnell has done a good job and the push to oust her appeared in part to be “something of a railroad job” related to a dispute over allowable activities in breweries and distilleries. Springer said the alcohol industry is powerful.

Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Chairman Bob Klein last month praised McConnell’s work ethic and administrative skills. But Klein said he saw a disconnect between the board’s wishes and how McConnell approaches her position.

McConnell said he never raised such issues with her, and she felt she was being pushed out with no good cause.

July meeting minutes state the Marijuana Control Board approved without opposition a motion of confidence in McConnell. Minutes show four members attended the meeting. Schulte was not yet appointed.

McConnell, who addressed the board after Wednesday’s vote, said in late August she learned Assistant Commerce Commissioner Amy Demboski was contacting Klein and Springer to ask that each board hold an executive session to discuss personnel issues. McConnell said that, as the boards have personnel authority over her, “it was clear that the administration was requesting that the boards remove me as director.”

In an email, Glenn Hoskinson, a public information officer for the state commerce department, said the boards acted within their authorities.

“At no time has the Department of Commerce, its officials, or the administration requested the board members to remove the director,” Hoskinson wrote. “The decision whether to remove the executive director is solely the purview of each Board.”

McConnell said an employment relationship is based on good faith, “and those of you who have voted to remove me without actually finding that I’ve done anything wrong or providing me with an opportunity to correct any issues you have with me should be ashamed of yourselves.”

She said longtime board counsel Harriet Milks was reassigned with no reason given. Department of Law spokeswoman Maria Bahr said by email that the department “cannot comment on personnel matters, and that includes a reassignment.”

The marijuana board heard concerns Wednesday from some in the industry about such things as training for an inventory tracking system, wait times and fears of heavy-handed enforcement.

Cary Carrigan, executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, which had members detail complaints during a public comment period Wednesday, said his group had not taken a public position on whether McConnell should be removed.

He said members wanted the board to know what they felt was lacking or needed. He said he is OK with what happened but hopes it’s a recognition that changes are needed to build out the office and further support the industry.

McConnell said she worked hard and did her best to uphold the laws. The Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office has great staff but inadequate resources, she said.

By Becky Bohrer

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