FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Marijuana Control Board hosted a public hearing Wednesday in Anchorage to discuss possible regulations for on-site consumption of legal cannabis.
Little is known about how these possible regulations would work. Several ideas bandied about during the meeting included legalizing regulated consumption of cannabis within dispensaries and shops, or creating designated areas or lounges to consume cannabis in — both ideas held with the ultimate goal of keeping the substance from being used in public, which is illegal.
Only three members of the Fairbanks community testified in the hearing that lasted from 1-4 p.m.
Rick Hinkey, a Fairbanks man, said he has lived in Alaska for 23 years and raised all four of his children in Fairbanks.
He spoke against the proposals.
“I do not believe allowing on-site consumption is the best way to protect the public. I do not believe we have the capacity to do it well,” Hinkey said.
“I think it’s the wrong time to do it. I know Alaskans like to be the first people to do things, but I don’t think this is the right approach.”
Karen Perdue, former commissioner of Health and Social Services, also opposed a change.
“This is a really important dialogue. Alaska would be the first state to implement on-site consumption,” Perdue said. “But this is not a widely adopted model. Before you make a decision that we can never come back from, consider the economic benefits versus public health concerns.”
Perdue also expressed concern about safety.
“You have to assume that having marijuana bars will increase impaired driving,” she said.
Perdue served as the associate vice president of Health Affairs at the University of Alaska and as a member of the Fairbanks Hospital Foundation’s board of trustees.
Fairbanks City Council member Shoshana Kun, who supports on-site consumption, called from Fairbanks and listed reasons for her support. They included medicinal benefits for those battling opioid addictions and people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorders.
Kun spoke from her perspective as an addictions and behavioral-health counselor.
“We have veterans that can positively use cannabis for effects of PTSD; we have found that cannabis can assist these individuals to be able to work through traumatic triggers,” she said. “Also, with regard to opiate recovery, if there were on-site consumption spaces, an individual with an opiate addiction could go to an on-site consumption area to wean themselves off of opiates. Look at it not just from a financial perspective, but I want to also encourage you to look at the population that is being alienated that are not able to have a space of their own to benefit from the positive effects of cannabis use.”
Kun said she was speaking on her own behalf and was not representing the views of the City Council or the city of Fairbanks.
Cary Carrigan, executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, testified in favor of the change, noting that it could be extremely helpful for the tourist industry. Most tourists do not have a place to legally consume cannabis and thus are less likely to invest in the industry, he said.
State law permits cannabis use only on private property or in a private residence. This excludes most accommodations for tourists unless they are staying with friends or family, Carrigan added.
“If we have the ability to sample the products that they want to get in that environment, that would be a better way to work for the tourists,” he said. “It’s really important, too, I think, that on-site consumption will be a way to get it out of the public arena. People are going to consume marijuana in this state because it’s legal, but not everybody wants to and not everyone wants to be exposed to it. And on-site consumption works to address that problem.”
The board also got a call from Matt Springer, a professor of medicine from the University of California San Francisco, who warned about the medical dangers of cannabis use.
“It’s like inhaling a whole chemistry lab when you inhale smoke,” he said. “People mistake the absence of evidence of harm for the evidence of absence of harm.”
Springer’s statements received pushback from some who testified about medicinal benefits of cannabis use for chronic pain, PTSD and more.
The board is expected to discuss the matter during its regular meetings today and Friday. Whether the board will act on the proposals is not known.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter:@FDNMPolitics.