Is Alaska Poised to Be the Best State for Pot?
The tourism industry sure hopes so but Alaska shows how difficult is the transition from illegal to legal, even with voter approval.
The marijuana market has been volatile since the elections of November 2016. Enthusiasm greeted passage of state laws that liberalized and/or decriminalized possession and use for medical or recreational purposes. Confusion over administrative delays threatens to stifle the realization of many of these laws.
Alaska provides a study in the confusion. It leads some to wonder: Is Alaska poised to be the best state for pot? If this handy tourist guide to enjoying Alaska's now-relaxed cannabis laws is any indication it very well may be.
Where the cannabis culture finds itself.
February 17, 2017 saw the formation of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) of California asserted at a press conference, “We’re stepping forward together to say we’ve got to make major changes in our country’s attitude toward cannabis… And if we do, many people are going to live better lives, it’s going to be better for our country, better for people, and it makes economic sense at a time when every penny must count for government.”
Rep. Don Young (R-AK) added, “my goal is to make sure that if I’m in the business, like we have quite a few in Alaska now, as they do this business, they can run it as a business… Get loans from banks, and put the revenue back into the banks, as every other business does.”
Rep. Rohrabacher has also introduced a Federal Marijuana Policy that should serve to protect people from having marijuana-related prosecutions under the Controlled Substances Act. That is assuming that these people were acting in compliance with all state laws.
Where Alaskans find themselves.
The Supreme Court of Alaska ruled 40 years ago that the Alaskan Constitution protected marijuana possession and use under the right to privacy, but the state found itself back and forth on the issue for three decades. It was not until a 2014 election that the court ruling was written into law. Alaskan voters approved the law by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent, with the law taking effect February 25th, 2015.
That 47 percent represents a still-strong conservative constituency that some fear will repudiate the law or interfere with its execution and administration. For instance, Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board (MCB) struggles to deliver the law’s intent. Cynthia Franklin, former board director and a former prosecutor, admits, “We are struggling… I’ve tried a death penalty capital murder [case] and this is harder than that.”
Absent clarity on what is legal and what is not, law enforcement appears to lay off prosecution. In 2014, Matt Ferner, writing for Huffington Post, predicted, “By 2020, Alaska’s legal retail marijuana market would grow to approximately 13 metric tons, adding $23 million in taxes to state coffers, according to the report. First-year legal sales are projected at $55 million, reaching $106 million by 2020.”
But, it doesn’t look like that will happen at the pace predicted. Without clarification in the law and administrative guidance, the state’s share of revenue isn't likely to improve soon. Alaskan habits are likely to stay the same as they've been. In other words, people will grow for their own use and buy in a still thriving black market.
The smoking lounge issue.
Brothers James and Giono Barrett have thrown a new hat in the ring. They want customers at their retail store to have the freedom to smoke while on the premises. The idea is to create smoking lounges in already legal retail dispensaries where smokers could purchase, light up and sit back.
If the Alaska MCB approves their idea, problems would have to be worked out regarding security, ventilation and layout. The Barretts and other advocates envisioned “Green Zones” in port cities where tourist ships dock. Those tourists include weed connoisseurs looking to try some of Alaska’s local strains.
However, a February 2, 2017 decision by the Alaska MCB vetoed the idea in a 3 to 2 vote. The report in Chron.com said Board Member Mark Springer feared raising a red flag before the Trump administration. Loren Jones claimed he was representing the concerns of his constituents. Finally, Sara Chambers of Alaska’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office pointed out that the public notice had not been prepared correctly.
The "sit back and enjoy" conclusion.
Alaskans are a hearty bunch. Strongly independent, they favor conservative politics of the Libertarian sort. They don’t stand for federal intervention. They stay inclined to do things their own way.
You can assume that part of the apparent conservative position on the November 2016 proposition was attached to the Trump vote. And, the average Alaskan would stick with their Constriction’s protection of privacy rights.
At the same time, they aren't likely to flaunt their individuality or make it the center of attention. Having passed the new law, they will let the administrative wheels turn. For the time being at least, there isn't a rush to open pot cafes.
When the stores open and the taxes roll into Juneau, specific marketing suggestions like licensing cannabis tours and permitting on-site consumption will carry more weight. For example, the potential for income from cruise ship tourists will swing some votes.
If Alaska is poised to be the best state for good pot, the smoking lounges could change the game. Putting Alaska on the map for cannabis tours and marijuana stops makes a lot of economic sense, but Alaskans must determine if that's the image they want to create and share.