The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly on Monday will consider a proposal to move forward with a ban on commercial cultivation, processing, manufacturing and sale of marijuana within the boundaries of the borough.
Assembly Member John Harrington sponsored the agenda item. He said that during a recent policy session, the Assembly was leaning toward not banning retail cultivation and sale of pot, but then he heard from some concerned constituents and now he’s not sure about the best course of action.
“I think we all are vacillating as to what is the logical thing to do,” he said. “So, I put the action item on the agenda for two reasons: It gives the citizens a chance to talk on the subject before any major decisions are made. And second of all, I don’t want to ask staff to spend a lot of time developing regulations for it, and then at the last second ban the commercial sale.”
Harrington said an option to a permanent ban on commercial marijuana operations would be a temporary ban until state and local regulations are established.
Private use of marijuana will become legal on Feb. 24, and while the Legislature is looking into how to regulate pot, the state won’t have rules in place before legalization takes effect.
Alaska voters approved the legalization of marijuana during last fall’s state election. Ketchikan voters fell in line with the state average on the pot issue, with the majority voting for legalization.
Harrington said banning the commercial sale of pot wouldn’t go against the will of the voters.
“It would still be legal to grow it for your own use, it would still be legal to smoke it in your own residences,” he said.
Harrington points out that the initiative approved by voters does allow local municipalities to strictly control or even ban commercial sales of pot.
But, even though he put the item on the agenda, Harrington is not completely sure that he wants to ban commercial marijuana operations.
“I don’t know. I really don’t. This is just… No matter what we do, it’ll probably be wrong. But, I think we will manage to do something here in the next few months,” he said. “I really am stymied as to exactly what best to do about the pot. I’m actually looking forward to some of the citizen input.”
Other Alaska municipalities are struggling with the issue, as well. Anchorage lawmakers, for example, voted down a proposal similar to Harrington’s after significant public testimony against banning the commercial sale of pot in Alaska’s largest city.
If approved by Ketchikan’s Assembly, Harrington’s proposal would direct borough staff to draft an ordinance for the Assembly to consider at a future meeting.
Also on Monday, the Assembly will consider a joint resolution with the Ketchikan School Board agreeing to a format for the school district’s annual budget. An executive session at the end of Monday’s meeting will allow the Assembly to discuss legal strategy regarding the borough’s lawsuit challenging the state’s required local contribution for public schools. The borough won the case in Alaska Superior Court, but the state has filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court.
Monday’s meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. in Borough Assembly chambers at the White Cliff building. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.