NORTH POLE — Marijuana stores are welcome in the city with the motto “where the spirit of Christmas lives year round.”
The City Council on Monday rejected a measure that would have banned marijuana dispensaries in North Pole.
Even Santa Claus — yes, that’s his real name — spoke in favor of a marijuana store opening in the Christmas-themed community.
“As far as the image goes here at North Pole, how do most people perceive Santa Claus?” Claus said. “I would say Santa Claus is a pretty jolly fellow.
“I am a medical marijuana patient,” he said. “I would like to have access to medical marijuana here in North Pole and not have to travel to Fairbanks to get it.”
North Pole is the only community in the Fairbanks North Star Borough so far to formally consider the local option to prohibit marijuana sales.
The ordinance by Councilwoman Sharron Hunter failed to advance to a public hearing by a 2-5 vote following a lively debate.
Hunter and Councilwoman Elizabeth Holm provided the yes votes.
Mayor Bryce Ward said that if the residents of North Pole don’t want a pot dispensary, they won’t shop at one.
The soonest a cannabis store could open in Alaska is next year as the state continues to work on regulations for the new industry.
“Really letting the market dictate where it goes is a more appropriate setting,” Ward said. “I am not saying I am in favor of using marijuana. I never have been. What we are talking about is the commercialization of it. If shops opened up here, if it’s something this community doesn’t want, people aren’t going to shop there.”
North Pole Police Chief Steve Dutra said the number of arrests for pot possession in North Pole is down since possession of the plant for recreational use became legal in February.
North Pole previously had taken a hard line against pot, arresting people for possession instead of ticketing them — the practice in other jurisdictions.
Dutra said he’s seen no problems since the more-permissive law for personal consumption of cannabis went into effect.
“We’re not seeing any significant issues with it at this point,” the police chief said.
Hunter said she sponsored the ordinance in part because stores selling marijuana goes against the city’s Christmas theme.
“I think having visible retail marijuana sales does not fit in with that concept,” the councilwoman said. “Our image, who we are, is more important than the image that marijuana has.”
Hunter pointed out that voters in North Pole rejected the statewide ballot measure legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Hunter likened allowing marijuana sales to allowing gambling.
“We have to look beyond the money it will bring us,” she said.
Holm urged prohibiting marijuana sales so North Pole could be a haven for people, including recovering drug addicts, looking to avoid controlled substances.
Other council members pointed out that North Pole allows the sale of alcohol.
“We sell alcohol in this town,” said Councilman Kevin McCarthy. “We sell cigarettes in this town. We sell guns in this town. Where are you going to draw the line?”
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587.