Wrangell’s municipal code prohibits a marijuana business from staying open late. Some residents are pushing for the assembly to loosen those restrictions, and elected officials are considering it.
A few strands of multicolored tinsel — one interspersed with tiny American flags — frame the unassuming door of Wrangell’s lone weed store. The grey door in the also-grey Happy Cannabis building sports a few strong, vinyl letter statements: “No one under 21 years of age allowed,” “No loitering,” and a paper sign: “CASH ONLY.”
The hours are also posted there: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Shop owner Kelsey Martinsen says he would keep the lights on later if he could. But Wrangell’s local ordinances restrict the shop from staying open into the evening. He says some customers feel the crunch of trying to make it in before he has to close for the night: “I think a lot of places end [their hours] right around 5:30, 6:00, and they can’t make it here on time.”
A few Wrangellites have recently spoken out, petitioning the assembly to expand the allowable hours for the store. Wrangell’s borough assembly is apparently listening. It’s passed an initial draft of an ordinance that would let the business stay open until 10 p.m.
“It’s not like the city’s like, ‘Hey, you can’t sell tomatoes past 8 p.m.,’ like ‘You’d better be closed,’ you know?” says Jill Privett. She’s supported the local licensing of Happy Cannabis since it was proposed in 2016. She owns a food truck in town and several other businesses.
“At the time,” Privett continues, “It was just really cool that we even got to have legal cannabis at all, but then three years later, it’s like, okay, I can buy a pizza sandwich till 7 p.m. But God forbid I go buy a doobie.”
She’s also KSTK’s morning host and program director, but she’s not speaking for the station. Rather, she’s spearheading the effort to extend the allowable hours for marijuana businesses in town.
“Wrangell has been a drinking town for so long that it’s kind of like ‘How do we shift that thinking of, you know, pot being such a taboo?’” Privett says, explaining why she chose to step up as a cannabis consumer. “It’s completely normal for Wrangell’s number one mom to go down to the liquor store at whatever hour the night and buy a gallon of wine and get tipsy every night off wine, ‘Mama’s little helper’ kind of thing. But it’s totally, totally not acceptable if you see her coming out of the cannabis store. So there’s definitely still that stigma.”
Martinsen, the Happy Cannabis store owner, says he does think Wrangell’s community has relaxed a bit with respect to weed in the years since his business opened.
“Maybe some older people are coming into like some pain issues and stuff for sleeping like they’ve come around to the edibles,” Martinsen says, “But it’s still like they’re real hush hush about it. They don’t want anyone to know they’re getting it. There’s people who still come on with their hooded sweatshirt and their cap and sunglasses.”
There are groups — real life and social media — of Wrangellites who use cannabis, and many of them support later opening hours. Almost none have spoken out publicly. Kevin Fish is among them. He told KSTK that to his mind, cannabis stores shouldn’t be more restricted than, say, bars.
“I actually look at [extending allowable hours to 10 p.m.] as a double-edged sword,” Fish says. “I think the extension should be what alcohol is. Anywhere in between is still staying in the over-regulated space where we’re regulating something more than another, where the other is more dangerous, that other being alcohol.”
It’s not clear from archival assembly minutes exactly how they picked 6 p.m. as the cut-off time. Assembly members from that period say they remember it was to balance the worries of some in town who felt having a pot shop would lead to moral decline. Privett recalls community trepidation over legal weed.
“You know, reefer madness, we don’t want that after 6 p.m. in Wrangell,” she says with a smile.
So far, there hasn’t been public pushback to the possible loosening of Wrangell’s current restrictions on dispensary hours. KSTK reached out to Wrangellites who spoke out against the initial licensing of the store, including a former state representative. Almost everyone didn’t return calls and nobody wanted to comment.
State law allows marijuana businesses to operate for all but three hours of the day: between 5 and 8 in the morning.
Wrangell’s borough assembly will hold a public hearing on the proposed extension for marijuana store hours at their upcoming meeting at 7 p.m. on May 27. Anyone wishing to testify at the public hearing can call City Hall at 874-2381 or email the clerk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get in touch with KSTK at email@example.com or (907) 874-2345.