As Pot Legalization Begins, City Council OKs Ban on Public Consumption, $100 Fine

Feb 24, 2015

Alaskans can consume and possess marijuana as of today, but not in public, and last night the Fairbanks City Council approved an ordinance setting a hundred-dollar fine for violating that rule.

Before the six councilmembers at Monday night’s meeting all voted to adopt the ordinance, Councilman David Pruhs told them he introduced it to help the city’s 47 police officers respond to complaints about public pot consumption.

“This is written for the police officers – giving them direction, on what their response is,” he said.

Pruhs says he believes police needed something in place soon, because they’ll probably be getting more complaints about pot smoking as of today.

“You are going to see people smoking marijuana, whether you like it or not, now.” he said.

Pruhs says the city’s new policy deals with the public pot consumption as it would with violations of local laws against consumption of alcohol in a public place. He says that’s what was called-for in Ballot Measure 2, which voters passed in November.

“I went with what the intent of the initiative was – treating it like an open container, like alcohol.”

Pruhs says the council probably should now begin amending the City Code to deal with marijuana-related complaints under such existing laws as disturbing the peace.

Responding to a question from Councilman Jim Matherly, Pruhs says the ordinance respects property rights and sidesteps the issue of how to respond to complaints over pot consumption on private property by directing police to treat them much as they would alcohol-related complaints.

“When you are on your property – that is your property, he said.

The issue of pot consumption on private property complicated the city of North Pole’s deliberations last week over its public pot-consumption law. And it appears likely to create disagreement among members of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly, who also are considering an ordinance banning public pot consumption.

That’s a concern to David Throop, one of three local residents who spoke about the issue in a brief public hearing before the Fairbanks council vote.

“I hope for the support of our law-enforcement personnel that the local governments will join to form identical definitions concerning legal marijuana in the near future,” Throop said.

In remarks by council members before the vote, Bernard Gatewood said he’ll vote for Pruhs’ measure not because he’s a fan of marijuana, but because it’s up to elected officials to carry out the will of the voters.

“The people have spoken,” Gatewood said. “I’ve got to put my personal views aside.”

The borough Assembly is expected to introduce its ordinance dealing with public pot consumption in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, the Legislature is wrestling with that and other marijuana-related issues as part of a statewide law that it’s working on this session.