Cannabis Industry Update

A marijuana leaf in the vegetative room at Alaska Cannabis Cultivators Monday morning, June 5, 2017. On-site consumption was approved at the Fairbanks City Council meeting in a 4-2 vote Monday, April 22, 2019.

The Fairbanks City Council voted 4-2 to pass Ordinance 6101, which amends restrictions to allow on-site marijuana consumption at approved marijuana retail establishments.

During time for residents to comment, six of the 10 people who came forward to speak did so in favor of on-site consumption.

Keenan Hollister, owner of Pakalolo, said he came before the council to speak as a resident and on behalf of his customers who are also residents.

Hollister spoke for an extended period of time with different council members. He said that people have already voted on this topic twice, largely in favor.

Councilwoman Shoshana Kun asked: “When voters voted twice for regulating marijuana like alcohol, is it your impression that they knew they were voting for on-site consumption?” 

Councilman Jerry Cleworth said the last two times the public voted, there was language prohibiting public consumption.

This brought up conversation about what defines public consumption.

During council discussion, Cleworth said he believes public consumption should be clearly outlined and added there was confusion surrounding the topic when cannabis was legalized.

“So I think there is a real misunderstanding as to what that means … and that’s why I think that that needs to be clarified,” he said.

Following fines against Hempfest in 2018, according to Councilwoman Kun, the Marijuana Control Board has worked extensively to define public consumption.

“So what are your thoughts about the city of North Pole in making their decision?” Councilwoman June Rogers asked Hollister.

The city of North Pole prohibits marijuana establishments within city limits. Hollister countered that there are establishments outside city limits where people can easily procure cannabis anyway.

“People in North Pole are consuming cannabis … but the city of North Pole is not benefiting at all from any tax revenue,” he said.

Councilman Rogers also asked whether Hollister felt business owners would want to pay to make adjustments to legal cannabis shops in order to make sure they meet the requirements for a smoke-free workplace.

“I’m sitting here before you because I want to do it,” Hollister said.

The council voted first on a substitute ordinance, amended to take on-site consumption to a public vote. The motion for substitution failed with Mayor Jim Matherly breaking the tie.

When it came time to vote on the original ordinance, Councilwoman Kathryn Ottersten said Alaska would not be a trailblazer in allowing on-site consumption, that the state would be following precedents set by other states.

“You can go online and read Yelp reviews of different cannabis cafes in California,” she said.

Ottersten also spoke in favor of having discussions about limiting the number of establishments authorized to allow on-site consumption this year.

Councilwoman Shoshana Kun said she had been visiting marijuana establishments to hear feedback on the ordinance.

“So, listening to what Mr. Hollister brought to us tonight, he brought everything that is a great reason to allow this industry to grow,” Kun said. “And no puns intended, again.”

Before councilmembers voted, Cleworth reiterated his sentiments that on-site consumption should be on the October ballot.

“It should be voted on by the voters of this city. That’s it,” he said.

Councilmembers Pruhs and Therrien both said they would support the ordinance, despite helping introduce the substitute ordinance to bring the issue to a vote, for separate reasons.

Therrien, who originally voted to put the issue on the ballot, expressed concerns about the possibility of a citizens’ initiative wiping out regulations imposed by city council.

“I think it’s very important that we keep the boundaries between establishments and people’s homes,” she said, adding they heard concerns regarding the creation of buffer zones.

Pruhs, meanwhile, said he questioned the industry on why it should be afforded a special privilege and did not find what he believed it to be an adequate answer. Instead, he said he questioned whether he should take away something being granted statewide.

“I don’t look at the economics. I don’t look at the moral aspect that’s been discussed. … I look at the right that I’m either giving or taking away,” he said. “I will not take away the right the state of Alaska has given, so I’ll be supporting this.”

Following the vote passing the ordinance, there were loud applauses from those who attended. There was a short break between the ordinance passing and the rest of the meeting, during which several members of the cannabis industry approached different councilmembers to express their thanks.

Police chief confirmed

During the same meeting, the council voted unanimously to confirm Mayor Matherly’s appointment of Lt. Nancy Reeder, from the Anchorage Police Department, to the position of Fairbanks chief of police.

Councilman Cleworth took some time before the vote to voice some concerns over the process, wherein he mentioned the council did not get time to speak with the candidates, despite having to vote to confirm their appointment.

“There should be a process, I think, where the council should be involved more in listening to these candidates,” Cleworth said.

Matherly said they would figure out what to do next time.

“I agree with you, maybe next time there will be a meeting with just the council and we’ll bring everybody up,” he said.

Matherly took time at the beginning of the meeting to honor police Chief Eric Jewkes and his son, Braden, his wife, Martha, and his parents, in light of his retirement from the police department.

Jewkes is retiring after 25 years of service with the police department. He began as an officer and worked his way up to chief in 2016.

Matherly thanked Jewkes for his career, noting “the thousands of calls he has made over the years and the countless lives he’s touched.”

“I want to personally thank Chief Jewkes for a wonderful career,” Matherly said.

Jewkes said there are three components to surviving life in law enforcement: people have to physically live through the career, be able to leave the career without being pushed out and have to emotionally handle the tragic aspects.

“You have to leave with your humanity, believing in yourself, believing in your community. Believe in your people,” he said.

He thanked each member of his family and then thanked his staff and the mayor. He added that his favorite part of the job was “just being able to champion the hard work that they do.”

Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7572.