Marijuana is already legal in Alaska, but it won’t go on sale in retail stores until next year. When it does, stoners may be in for a pleasant surprise: The state might let them use their favorite drug on the property.
The state’s Marijuana Control Board voted 3-2 in November to allow customers to use cannabis at the store that sells it to them. This would in effect open the door to the kind of pot bars tokers have pushed for elsewhere.
The vote is only a first step. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, a Democrat, must approve it before it could take effect. But if it becomes policy, marijuana shops would be allowed to set aside designated toking areas and permit customers to smoke or otherwise consume the drug there.
Cannabis use limited to private property
No other state yet allows adults to smoke anywhere outside private property, a rule that limits most people to smoking at home. Marijuana advocates note that this encourages irresponsible consumption by forcing tokers to hide their use.
In Colorado and other states with legalization, many users – both tourists and residents – smoke in their cars, often while driving. This is not a good thing, for obvious reasons. Efforts to legalize commercial cannabis clubs in Colorado have so far come up short.
Of the board’s five members, two voted against on-site consumption rules, including the member who represents the public health sector and the member who represents the public safety industry (police). Doctors and cops have been among the slowest groups to get on board with legal reform.
The vote will send the new regulation to the state for a legal review before Mallott signs or rejects it. Until he does, the board has put off any detailed discussion of what Alaska’s marijuana shops should look like or how they would be regulated.
Marijuana social clubs remain illegal
Shops would still have to comply with bans on any kind of indoor smoking, so the designated areas would have to be outside – not a pleasant prospect in Alaska in the winter. Marijuana social clubs, which allow private members to bring their own cannabis, are still illegal, said board Director Cynthia Franklin.
These clubs sprang up in the years before legalization was passed at the polls in 2014. Their owners have argued that they’re legal because their membership is private, but the state has decided that the clubs are in fact open to the public and violate laws against public consumption.
The debate that preceded that decision often grew heated, as advocates pointed to the downsides of a rule against cannabis bars. In August the board sought to ban all such clubs, discussing proposed regulations that would have prevented any kind of public gathering spot for stoners. Local reaction was deeply negative.
Board members complained at the time that they lacked the authority to create a license type for on-site marijuana consumption. Only four licenses were created when voters legalized: retail, manufacturing, cultivation, and testing labs.
Under the new policy approved in November, the board adopted rules that would allow a retail license holder to set aside space for consumption. And it would redefine retail shops as private rather than public spaces.