Second Alaska cannabis event fined over public consumption

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The Alaska Marijuana Control Board penalized Alaska Hempfest for allowing public consumption at its June festival in Wasilla.

The board voted Wednesday to fine Hempfest director Niki Raapana, of Fairbanks, $10,000 with $7,500 suspended pending no future violations.

The vote was unanimous with one board member abstaining.

The fine is the second imposed on an organizer of a gathering of cannabis enthusiasts in Alaska as some call on a review of the definition of public, which is “a place to which the public or a substantial group of people has access.”

In the case of Hempfest, the marijuana control office communicated to organizers before the three-day event, which attracted an estimated 1,500 people, that plans stated in advertising to offer a “smoking tent” and “infused delicacies” violated Alaska law.

“They were warned in advance and they decided to do it anyways,” said Sitka Police Chief Jeff Ankerfelt, the public safety member of the marijuana board.

No one from the Alaska Hempfest organization spoke at the marijuana control board meeting, which is being held at the Noel Wien Public Library through Friday.

Board member Loren Jones, who also sits on the Juneau Borough Assembly, said he will take a dim view of suspending portions of fines for future cases of public consumption.

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The fine follows that levied against the Cannabis Classic, held in Anchorage in May, in which the board imposed $20,000 in penalties with $15,000 suspended. Allowing public consumption was among the alleged violations.

Alaska Marijuana Control Office Director Erika McConnell suggested that the Legislature create an event permit under which public consumption would be allowed at marijuana-related gatherings.

McConnell asked for the fine against Hempfest in a memorandum to the board.

According to the memo, Hempfest “advertised a VIP smoking/dab tent during the event, to include a buffet of specially prepared infused delicacies.”

Attendees were reportedly encouraged to bring marijuana to consume in the VIP tent.

“The event came to our attention only a few days before it was scheduled,” McConnell wrote. “Ms. Raapana called Chief Investigator (James) Hoelscher regarding rumors that AMCO planned to assess a $100,000 fine.

“Chief Hoelscher emailed Ms. Raapana explaining why these activities were not permitted under state law.”

Raapana maintained that the VIP tent was not a public place.

McConnell told the marijuana control board that an AMCO agent purchased a VIP pass online, picked up the pass at the Hempfest event gate and entered the VIP area without being asked for identification to confirm the agent was 21, the legal age to consume marijuana.

AMCO maintains that the VIP area was public because passes were available to anyone to purchase.

Marijuana-infused cupcakes were handed out at the VIP tent along with joints, according to the memo.

Brandon Emmett, a Fairbanks-based marijuana industry representative on the board, abstained from voting on the fine citing concerns over his ability to be objective.

Emmett, along with industry representative Nick Miller, were criticized by some in the marijuana industry after voting in favor of the fine against the Cannabis Classic. Organizers of the Cannabis Classic have said they will appeal the fine.

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