The director of Alaska’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office was in Wrangell Tuesday to give a presentation on commercial marijuana regulations.
Cynthia Franklin told Wrangell residents that it would be challenging, but not impossible, to start a marijuana business in a small island community.
Franklin said there are four types of commercial pot licenses: cultivation, testing, retail and product manufacturing. And a consumption endorsement could be added to a retail application to allow onsite pot consumption, which is sometimes referred to as a “pot café.”
Any number of these business types could potentially exist in Wrangell.
Franklin said under state law, licensed marijuana establishments can ship pot to other licensed establishments within Alaska, as long as they follow requirements for tracking shipments.
“Whether or not any federal authorities would stop those shipments is an open question,” Franklin said. “But the feds, in general, have said that they’re going to permit this state experiment in marijuana legalization, as long as we have licensees that are complying with robust state rules. So we have hopes that they would allow that commerce to happen.”
That means a retail business in Wrangell could receive shipments of pot products from other parts of the state. Or a cultivation establishment in Wrangell could send samples to testing facilities in other Alaskan cities.
Franklin said she is pretty confident shipments will not get seized by federal officials. She said shipping marijuana is still federally illegal, but so is the entire existence of the commercial marijuana industry.
Another challenge for pot entrepreneurs in small communities is the buffer that prohibits marijuana establishments within 500 feet of a school, youth center, church or jail. Some Southeast communities asked the state to loosen that requirement to help cities that have small downtown areas.
But Franklin said the Marijuana Control Board probably won’t change the buffer zone.
“One thing that’s really important to remember about the 500-foot buffer zone is it’s half as small as the buffer zones in other legalized states,” Franklin said. “So other legalized states looked at the federal drug-free school zone, which is 1,000 feet, and said, ‘We don’t want to open marijuana establishments inside a federal drug-free school zone.’ Alaska is going to be the first state to allow marijuana activity—growing, selling, producing—inside a federal drug-free school zone.”
She said the board picked a 500-foot buffer because that’s the State of Alaska’s drug-free school zone.
“We need to have a good reason to pick a number, and not pick a number randomly,” Franklin said. “In other words, we have to really be mindful of the risk that we’re taking in terms of being the first state to wander out into this territory.”
Franklin said 113 license applications have been initiated since they became available about a week ago. But no one has submitted a completed application with the $1,000 fee yet. Completed applications will be listed on the control office’s website.
License applications will also be sent to local governments. If a Wrangell resident were to apply for a commercial marijuana license, the Wrangell Borough Assembly could protest the application.
Local governments can also put additional restrictions on zoning, business hours and the number of marijuana establishments in town. They can even ban commercial pot entirely, but that question has not come up in Wrangell.
It will still be several months before legal sales start in Alaska, but Franklin detailed some of the regulations pot businesses will have to follow.
No one under the age of 21 will be allowed inside licensed commercial marijuana establishments.
Customers could buy up to one ounce of marijuana at a time, because that is the legal possession limit.
There are transaction limits on edible marijuana products and wax, a highly concentrated form of pot. The state has also outlawed edible products that look like non-marijuana products and banned products that look especially appealing to children.