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Alaska’s Rejection of Onsite Pot Use at Stores Gets Murky

Photo by Dan Skye

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska marijuana regulators thought they had snuffed out onsite use of marijuana at retail pot shops, but there may be an ember left.

On Thursday, the Marijuana Control Board rejected rules that would have let people buy marijuana products in authorized stores and go into separate store areas to partake.

But board staff on Friday issued a clarification, saying that if retail stores have board-approved marijuana consumption operating plans, they might be valid. The clarification points to an existing regulation that says a retail store, with prior board approval, can have onsite use in a designated section of the property. That regulation was not brought up during Thursday’s board debate. And the vote was seen by industry representatives as a setback in their push for onsite use.

Officials didn’t know how many such plans, if any, may have been approved. They were reviewing applications and trying to get a better sense for what the board’s intent may have been in any such approvals.

“Because the last thing that the board wants to do is to mislead a retailer into thinking that they can or can’t when the board’s intention was otherwise,” said Sara Chambers, acting director of the state’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office.

The issue is likely to come up at the next board meeting.

The board had been mulling the idea of onsite use of marijuana since late 2015, when it carved out an exception to Alaska’s public-use ban for authorized retail pot shops. The rules rejected Thursday included an application process for stores wanting to allow onsite use and details for how those stores would need to operate.

Some industry representatives said they had overlooked or missed the existing regulation pointed out in the clarification memo and expressed new hope in advancing the discussion on onsite use.

One of them is Brandon Emmett, an industry representative on the board. He said it would be in the board’s best interest to finish writing rules for how onsite use should occur so that the board has a say in that matter.

“Because as it’s written now, in my interpretation, anyone with an onsite consumption section of their business can just operate it how they see fit,” he said.

Loren Jones, a board member who voted to reject the onsite consumption proposal Thursday, said in his view, the board has not approved any retail licenses for onsite use.

“Some retailers have checked a box that said they intend to apply once the rules are set,” he said. But rules have not been set, he noted.

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