Two weeks from tomorrow, city and borough voters will decide whether to outlaw marijuana-related businesses in the two jurisdictions. Advocates and opponents of the two ballot measures that would outlaw pot growing and sales have ramped up their campaigns in recent weeks. Some of the concerns and issues both sides raise were reflected in comments by Fairbanks City Council members last Monday as they considered an application to open a retail cannabis shop.
Before councilmembers voted on the application for a new retail marijuana store on the Old Steese Highway, they approved renewing licenses granted last year for three other marijuana-related business in town. Councilman David Pruhs observed before voting to approve the new license that the city has learned a lot over the past year about those businesses. And he says the lessons learned include they’ve so far been relatively crime-free.
“The police reports that we get are inevitably from an employee spring the alarm on accident,” Pruhs said, “or someone who’s not associated with the business causing an issue, and the business is requesting that person to be removed.”
Councilman Jonathan Bagwill says that’s not the issue for opponents of marijuana businesses, like himself. Rather, it’s the inherent social ills that opponents believe come with use of marijuana, also known as cannabis. And he says opponents aren’t swayed by arguments that those social ills aren’t as bad as those that come with alcohol use.
“Alcohol is worse. I would agree with that,” Bagwill said. “… However, whenever someone who is in the cannabis industry says alcohol is worse, that tells me that even (the marijuana advocate would say) ‘I view the cannabis industry as negative, and alcohol as more negative.’ ”
Councilwoman June Rogers says she also has concerns about the issue. She says she’s not a marijuana user and never has been. But she said she’d vote to approve the license application, because she supports cannabis entrepreneurs adhering to the process that’s been set forth in state law and local ordinances since Alaska voters legalized marijuana use and sale two year ago.
“When we put out criteria for people to follow, and they follow those to the letter of the law, then I feel I have to honor that contractual relationship,” Rogers said.
In the end, Rogers decided to vote no anyway. But the council ended up narrowly approving Christian Hood’s request for a license for a shop on the 300 block of the Old Steese Highway by a 4-3 vote. Jerry Cleworth joined Rogers and Bagwill in voting no; Pruhs, Joy Huntington, Valerie Therrien and Mayor Jim Matherly all voted yes.