Alaska regulators on Thursday approved rules for onsite consumption of marijuana at specially designated shops, a significant step for the cannabis industry in the state after years of debate.
The 3-2 vote by the Marijuana Control Board does not mean people can light up at shops right away.
Rather, interested businesses would have to apply for a special onsite use endorsement and devise plans that would meet ventilation and other standards for onsite use and pass muster with the board.
"It's not like people are going to be opening these up in the next week," said Cary Carrigan, the executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association. Carrigan nonetheless called the vote significant and a positive step.
The adopted rules also must be reviewed by the state Department of Law before they can be finalized.
Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel with the Marijuana Policy Project, said Alaska would have the first regulatory framework for onsite use at the state level. He called the adopted rules smart and said they could be a model for other states.
The Marijuana Control Board has gone back and forth on the issue since passing regulations in 2015 that contemplated allowing for onsite consumption in designated areas of authorized retail marijuana stores. However, it wasn't until Thursday that the board adopted rules for how onsite use would work.
The adopted rules call for consumption areas that are outdoors or that are separated from a marijuana retail store by walls and a secure door and meet ventilation requirements. The board would have to find a proposed outdoor site is compatible with the surrounding area.
People could not bring their own marijuana to a consumption area. Stores with onsite use would have to have a smoke-free place for employees to monitor the consumption area.
Local governments, by an ordinance or ballot question, could bar onsite use or certain types of consumption, such as smoking.
Industry representatives supported the onsite use proposal, with some seeing it as a way to give tourists a place to partake. But the proposal got pushback from public health advocates, including the state health commissioner and anti-smoking activists.
The board's two industry representatives, Brandon Emmett and Nicholas Miller, supported the proposal, as did Sitka Police Chief Jeff Ankerfelt, who holds the public safety seat.
Loren Jones, who has the board's public health seat, said advancing the rules would be a mistake. He said there are too many unknowns and suggested the board was overstepping.
Board Chairman Mark Springer, who with Jones voted "no," said the Legislature still could weigh in on the issue. He said he sees onsite use benefiting a relatively small number of retail businesses.