Community officials weigh in on who will regulate marijuana during committee hearing

Local government officials want the Legislature to make some of the decisions about marijuana regulations but leave other choices to individual communities.

During a House Community and Regional Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday, Matanuska-Susitna Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss said the borough's assembly wants the Legislature to restrict packaging that entices minors and clarify whether an ounce of marijuana applies to concentrates.

Alaska voters decided in November to legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults 21 years and older. The law takes effect Feb. 24. The measure also allowed for individual communities to prohibit commercial activity associated with the drug and to create regulations regarding consumption.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough Attorney Nick Spiropoulos said the borough also wants the Legislature to define what constitutes a public place. Under the initiative, "public" consumption is banned. The borough wants to focus on commerce issues, like land use regulation and business districts, he said.

Spiropoulous said there is also some concern about which local governments will be allowed to set rules. If each city makes its own rules, regulations could be inconsistent within a single borough, he said.

"That may not be the best thing, because it's inconsistent as you cross borders," Spiropoulos said. "It might be tough to get a handle on what the rules are depending on what piece of ground you're standing on and where a line is on the map."

But Palmer Mayor DeLena Johnson said it's important for communities to be able to opt out of the marijuana industry, even if the borough wants to opt in. She also said Palmer has a smoking ordinance on the books that the city wants to apply to marijuana and doesn't want the borough to have the power to change that.

Anchorage Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler said the city uses conditional use permits, which are related to land-use regulations, to decide whether an establishment serving alcohol fits into an area. A similar process could be used for regulating marijuana establishments, he said.

Officials also talked about licenses for marijuana businesses.

DeVilbiss said the preponderance of testimony during Assembly meetings in his borough called for an unlimited number of small marijuana businesses.

"That is the model that works best in agriculture," he said.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly member Jim Sykes said the assembly's recommendation was that licenses not have an economic value.