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Council defers on-site pot use

Daily News Staff Writer

With the issue spurring nearly an hour of public testimony, the Ketchikan City Council on Thursday night quickly voted 4-0 to stall a decision on whether to back new state efforts to allow on-site marijuana consumption in Alaska's now-many retail pot shops.

The vote resulted from the lack of a full dais, with Vice-Mayor Bob Sivertsen and Council Member Janalee Gage absent from the meeting. Council Member Dave Kiffer arrived after the 4-0 vote occurred.

On the table was a city resolution floated by Council Member Julie Isom to support efforts to “close the gap” caused by legally allowing recreational pot sales, but not allowing a bar-like setting for pot patrons to use the goods outside of the public arena.

Such a refuge would cover tourists, who essentially have nowhere to consume after buying their weed, as well as island residents, who might have limited options because of lease restrictions or certain family members.

Last week at Fairbanks, the Alaska Marijuana Control Board voted to draft a new state endorsement to allow on-site pot use at licensed retail shops, as well as lay out the needed regulatory framework for shops to achieve the endorsement.

"The board expects to release its drafted plan by early August for a 60-day public comment period. If ultimately approved, the city resolution would be sent to the state board for consideration. In the meantime, the council will revisit the resolution during its Aug. 3 meeting."

On Thursday night, the council didn't discuss the resolution. Rather, discourse during the meeting came from stakeholders, a sort of squaring off between community organizations and retail cannabis shop owners.

Reed Hardy, the drug free communities grant director with the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition, spoke first on the issue.

Among other points, Hardy's comments centered on second-hand pot smoke — indoors and out, despite the use of smoke ventilation systems — and the general safety of intoxicated patrons.

“Simply put, when you're drinking at a bar, your drinks don't get other people intoxicated,” he said. “This snowball effect will lead to people getting more intoxicated than they intend to, and that's a serious concern, I think.”

Hardy later said that, despite claims of ventilation systems being the solution, the U.S. Surgeon General said “with authority” that threats of second-hand smoke only can be eliminated by disallowing indoor-smoking policies.

“Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air and ventilating the buildings,” he said, “cannot eliminate exposures of nonsmokers to second-hand smoke.”

Mark Woodward, co-owner of The Stoney Moose, Ketchikan's first retail marijuana shop, contested those claims and noted that risks associated with tobacco are separate from cannabis.

“Tobacco and cannabis are two different things, and so you gotta remember that when they talk about these studies” he said, also adding that the shop's plans for a lounge specifically state that tobacco is not allowed.

On-site marijuana consumption, he said, among other counterpoints, has come into high demand at Ketchikan, from nonresidents and residents alike.

“On-site (consumption) is something that's always been there,” Woodward said. “That's why it's been important to me, because we need to have a place, and I see that every single day, not only for the tourist, but also locals.”

Terrence Robbins of Southeast Prevention Services said during the meeting that the Alaska Marijuana Control Board has rejected on-site consumption measures four times since marijuana became recreationally legal, with the vast majority of past public commentary being against it.

As for the new state effort, Robbins said: “You'd be endorsing a regulation that isn't developed or finalized, without knowledge of the specific language of the final regulation.”

“... The (2014) initiative that we voted for specifically prohibited on-site consumption,” he later said. “There was even a $100 fine for public consumption, which by definition, included marijuana retail stores, because under state statute, that's a public place.”

Stoney Moose Co-owner Eric Reimer then took the podium to counter opponent claims.

“I can't sit here and listen to people demonize cannabis,” Reimer said, then noting that his customer base runs the gamut. “I get a complete cross section of the population of the United States coming in there.”

“If you are coming into our shop, then you don't have a problem with cannabis use, No. 1,” he later said. “No. 2, if you are coming into our lounge to eat an edible or enjoy a joint, a cannabis cigarette, or whatever, then you're not worried about second-hand smoke. No. 3, as far as smoke leaving the building ... it's being filtered several times before it even goes out, and then it's going up, up and away.”

In other marijuana business, the council voted unanimously Thursday night to support a retail marijuana store license renewal for Rainforest Cannabis, 726 Water St.

Also Thursday, the council voiced final approval of an ordinance that allows negotiations to start between the city and the Improved Order of Red Men, whereby the nonprofit completes repairs to the city parking lot at Grant and Main streets to acquire a small plot of city property needed for renovations at its 342 Main St. property.