Voters in Fairbanks and outlying areas crushed two ballot measures that would’ve banned marijuana-related businesses from the city and borough.
Twenty minutes after the polls closed Tuesday night, it was clear that borough Proposition 1 and Fairbanks Proposition A both were going down in a big way. Votes against the measures jumped to a 2-to-1 lead over the yes votes after the first batch was tallied by the Borough Clerk’s office. And by the end of the evening, the gap had grown by a few more percentage points.
“I think what we’re seeing is the people of the city and the borough have truly realized that prohibition has failed,” says Brandon Emmett, president of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, one of the major backers of the no on Props 1 and A campaign.
“They like the jobs creation,” he said. “They like the tax revenue. They like public safety. They like knowing that our police officers are being tasked toward more violent crime and not toward a substance (that) has not caused social ills like our opposition would like them to believe.”
Jim Ostlind heads up Safe Neighborhoods Fairbanks, the organization that put the measures on the city and borough ballots. And he appeared stunned by the wide vote gap.
“Well, I wish I had an answer for what’s going on here,” Ostlind said. “I don’t understand it myself.”
Ostlind says it’s obvious the opposing side mobilized its voters better than Safe Neighborhoods did.
“People didn’t come out on the yes side,” he said. “It didn’t happen.”
Ostlind also pointed to the amount of money opponents raised and spent on the campaign, and his organization’s inability to match it.
“Well, they spent more than three times what we did, and that made a difference.,” he said. “And we didn’t get a lot of money ’til near the end of the campaign.”
Ostlind says in the end, Safe Neighborhoods couldn’t convince voters of the threat the organization’s members believe the marijuana industry represents.
“We tried to convince people,” he said. “Part of the trouble is the impact that the marijuana industry is having on the community isn’t visible yet. So we really had nothing to show people.”
Emmett says the outcome of the vote showed support for marijuana and the businesses that grow it has increased since Alaskans voted to legalize it three years ago.
“Now we’re seeing people who were on the fence, who may have voted no back in 2014, have realized that everything the industry claimed to provide, we’ve done,” he said. “And none of the social ills that our opponents said we would bring, have rung true.”
Emmett says the industry would like to reach out to Safe Neighborhoods members about their concerns. He says marijuana advocates have long argued that residents who don’t want marijuana businesses in their neighborhoods should get them rezoned residential, which would exclude those businesses.
“… And we’re willing to have that conversation,” he said.
Ostlind says he isn’t interested in that conversation.
“Well at this point, I don’t see any common ground to discuss.”
He thinks it’s likely many residents will turn to the borough for rezoning and other restrictions. But he says the most important takeaway from Tuesday’s election is no one should doubt it marks the rise of a new political force in Alaska.
“As the marijuana industry grows bigger and bigger, they’re going to have far more influence over the politics in this community and in the state,” Ostlind said. “If marijuana wants something to happen, they’re going to make it happen. And if they don’t want something to happen, they’re going to be able to take care of that, too.”