The Wrangell Borough Assembly gave first-round approval Tuesday to an ordinance banning the public consumption of marijuana. But assembly members disagreed on the timing and language of the measure.
The assembly narrowly passed the first reading of a proposed ordinance to ban marijuana consumption in public places.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because the legalization initiative has already banned public pot consumption. The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board further defined “public places” in an emergency regulation released last month.
Wrangell Borough Assembly Member Stephen Prysunka questioned the need for a local ordinance.
“This may be a moot point,” Prysunka said. “By state legislation, we may not need to double up on this.”
But Mayor David Jack said a local ordinance would provide a revenue source for the borough.
“If you have an ordinance, and there is a violation, you can issue it under the city ordinance. And for any penalty, the city derives the revenue from that,” Jack said.
The ordinance, passed in a 3-2 vote, would also establish a $100 fine for public consumption of pot.
Wrangell’s proposed ordinance echoes the state’s, but better defines public places.
The state says it is “a place to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access and includes highways, transportation facilities, schools, places of amusement or business, parks, playgrounds, prisons, and hallways, lobbies, and other portions of apartment houses and hotels not constituting rooms or apartments designed for actual residence.”
The ordinance before the Wrangell assembly adds streets, sidewalks, alleys, parking areas, convention centers, sports arenas, shopping centers and malls to the list of places where you cannot consume marijuana.
Assembly Member Julie Decker took issue with the marijuana ban at “places of amusement or business” because that would outlaw pot use at bars. She said Wrangell is too small to support a separate establishment for the sale and consumption of marijuana.
“I actually have the opinion that one of the more responsible places to sell and/or consume marijuana would be at a licensed bar,” Decker said. “It’s a place that’s already licensed to sell alcohol, they have a procedure, they don’t allow children, they card, they have someone who’s sober, and they police the situation.”
Prysunka said he wasn not sure what the effects of pot smoke would be on other people at the bar.
“A lot of our bars are trying to go to no smoking, and all of a sudden we have people smoking marijuana?” Prysunka asked.
Assembly Member Daniel Blake noted individual bar owners could ban marijuana use as some did with smoking tobacco.
Throughout the discussion, a few assembly members wondered whether it was too early for a local pot ordinance.
Mark Mitchell said he was apprehensive.
“The only problem I’ve got with that is I don’t know if we can act on this until we see exactly what the state says in their ordinances. Whatever we’re doing here could be countering the state rules that come out,” Mitchell said.
The assembly did not make changes to the proposed language.
Mitchell, Jack and Prysunka voted in favor of the pot ordinance, and Decker and Blake voted against it.
The measure will go to a public hearing and final vote March 24.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the assembly also gave first-round approval to raise admission rates at the Nolan Center Museum. The current rates have been in place for 10 years.