On Tuesday, Alaska became the first state to authorize marijuana consumption at permit-holding businesses. Lieutenant Governor Kevin Meyer signed a bill that puts the Land of the Midnight Sun in the company of Denver, West Hollywood, Oakland, and San Francisco — a small group of municipalities that allow its residents to toke up in certain designated establishments.
Alaskan businesses will be able to start applying for the permits on April 11, and local governments will have the power to restrict or veto the new regulations. Businesses will be responsible for taking the proper security measures and installing adequate ventilation. Consumption areas will need to be separated from retail space by a wall, or located on an outside patio. It is estimated that residents and visitors will be enjoying smoking lounges and other cannabis hang-outs by the middle of July.
The development sounds dreamy for all those who fantasize about trips to the north featuring a cannabis stop before a tundra trek, but NORML’s executive director Erik Altieri explained in a press release that the significance of this decision is hardly limited to tourism.
“By preventing retail outlets and other venues from being licensed and regulated for social consumption, many patients will have to choose between effective cannabis treatment for their ailments or being thrown out of public housing,” Altieri said. “This causes the civil liberties that come with marijuana legalization to still being kept at arm’s length from low-income individuals and members of other marginalized communities.”
Altieri is correct in that without licensed places for the public to consume, cannabis is not truly legal for all adults, even in the 10 states that have regulated adult-use recreational marijuana. A Department of Housing and Urban Development memo from 2014 banned use of marijuana in all federally assisted housing, regardless of state laws pertaining to its use — and that includes people who are registered patients in medical marijuana programs. This has led to some high profile instances of medical cannabis users losing their housing for merely growing or consuming their medicine.
Clearly, it would be preferable for the feds to get their act together. But at least for the moment, Alaska has joined a handful of U.S. cities where people have some options past deciding on their medical treatment or the roof over their heads.
Until Alaska’s state-wide regulation of consumption spaces, all eyes had been on West Hollywood when it came to being the U.S. capital of smoking lounges. In December, the city government announced that it had granted licenses to eight edibles cafes and to eight lounges where smoking, vaping, and eating marijuana products would be permitted.
But now, social smokers may be looking north — and in Alaska, many weed business types may be drawing up plans for future marijuana cafes. “The big news is, the suspense is over,” Mark Springer, chair of the Alaska Marijuana Control Board, told the Anchorage Daily News. “I’m sure there is a lot of excitement in the industry today.”