Alaska marijuana regulators to again review on-site use

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Alaska regulators, once on the cusp of allowing on-site use of marijuana at authorized retail stores, plan to take another run at the issue this week.

The Marijuana Control Board is scheduled to discuss proposed rules for allowing on-site consumption, but whether the board will reach a final conclusion isn't clear.

The board is down one member; Travis Welch resigned less than two months after his appointment to the public safety seat after being dismissed from his job as a police chief. The board's director has recommended that the panel put the draft rules out for public comment.

The board is scheduled to meet in Nome for three days, starting today.

Regulators have been mulling on-site use for several years, adopting rules in late 2015 to allow for people to use marijuana at authorized stores, but never finalized how that would work. One of the ideas behind on-site use was providing a place for tourists to partake.

The board last year rejected a set of proposed rules, with member Mark Springer, a frequent swing vote, suggesting moving slowly, citing uncertainty with how President Donald Trump's administration might view marijuana. Weeks later, though, the board decided to give it another try.

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The latest iteration was worked on by a subcommittee consisting of board members Brandon Emmett and Loren Jones, who have been on opposite sides of the issue. Emmett holds an industry seat on the board; Jones, the public health seat.

The proposal would allow for on-site use in a designated area, separated from the rest of the store either by a secure door, in an area with a separate ventilation system, or outdoors.

The board would have to evaluate whether an outdoor consumption area was compatible with other uses in the area. A person could only use marijuana purchased from the on-site retail store — they couldn't bring any from home.

The proposal sets daily rather than transactional limits on what a store can sell to a person, which the board's director, Erika McConnell said would be similar to alcohol tasting rooms.

It would allow for local governments to protest on-site use applications and to pass local ordinances prohibiting on-site consumption or certain elements of on-site use, such as smoking.

California permits marijuana smoking at marijuana retailers with specially designed lounges. But it also allows cities to ban those kinds of shops.

Emmett, who has expressed frustration with how long the debate over on-site use has gone on, said he thinks the board will be presented with a clearer, more fleshed out set of rules than they've considered before.

"I was able to put my own personal frustrations aside and really look at, OK, what are the issues here? Why has the board been so unwilling to discuss this?" he said.

Jones said the process for working on the draft was a good one, but said supporting the proposal is "a bridge too far for me at this point."

If any rules were to pass the board, he said he wanted something in place that would be workable and enforceable. But he said he's still not convinced that the initiative passed by voters in 2014 legalizing recreational use of marijuana permitted on-site use.

"I think the attorneys disagree with me, but I'm sort of stuck on that," he said.

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