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Local Municipal Leaders Hold Joint Meeting to Consider Pot-Legalization Law

Tim Ellis/KUAC

Municipal leaders from all three local governments gathered for a joint meeting Tuesday night with about 120 citizens to talk about the state’s new marijuana-legalization law. The first-of-its-kind meeting was held so the leaders could talk amongst themselves, and with the audience, about how they’re going to put the law into practice.

Fairbanks North Star Borough Assemblyman Karl Kassel says he organized the extraordinary meeting with the elected leaders of the borough and its two cities because each jurisdiction will have to make its own decision on how it’s going to deal with the pot-legalization law.

“It’s a very complicated issue,” Kassel said. “It involves our entire community. And I think it behooves us to see if we can get all three local governments on the same page, to the greatest extent possible.”

Assistant Borough Attorney Wendy Doxey explained the law and then fielded numerous questions from the 15 or so elected leaders in front of the lively crowd at the Pioneer Park Civic Center. Doxey concedes she couldn’t answer many of the questions dealing with the how the municipalities are going to handle businesses that sell marijuana and pot products, because the law is unclear.

“There’s a lot of clarification that’s needed,” she said. “There’s a lot of gaps in the act as it stands right now.”

Doxey says legislators are going to have to sort out most of those details in the next session.

“Whether they do that by statute and legislation or they leave it to regulations to flesh things out – but something I think has to happen, yes.”

Kassel and several other of the elected leaders thought something has to happen soon at the local level, at least discussions and planning, because personal use of pot will be legal by the end of February. And commercial pot production and sales could begin by the end of next year or early 2016.

Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC
Citizens were still filing into Pioneer Park's Civic Center a few minutes before Tuesday's meeting began. Within a few minutes, nearly all the seats were filled.

Several of the municipal leaders clearly opposed pot legalization and especially sales in their jurisdictions. But borough Mayor Luke Hopkins says he believes the borough should move ahead on the issue, and not put it on hold, or ban pot sales, as some Anchorage municipal leaders seem inclined to do.

“I don’t see a moratorium action coming forward – not by me. And I don’t think that’s the right move,” Hopkins said. “I know that Anchorage Assembly is looking at some of these actions. And I don’t think we need to be following the big sister city in the south.”

Fairbanks Mayor John Eberhart’s Chief of Staff Jim Williams says his boss, who was unavailable to attend the meeting, feels pretty much the same way.

North Pole Mayor Bryce Ward, who represents the only area that voted against Ballot Measure 2, didn’t offer an opinion on whether that city would regulate or ban pot sales.

Editor's Note 1: Click hereto read an analysis of Ballot Measure 2 by the Alaska Department of Law.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.