Ketchikan’s Marijuana Advisory Committee had its first meeting at noon Tuesday, mostly for the purpose of getting organized.
But after electing officers and deciding how often to meet, committee members did talk a little about how they want to move forward, and got a close look at the now-legal substance, courtesy of the chief of police.
Ketchikan’s seven-member Marijuana Advisory Committee is made up of elected officials from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, School Board and cities of Ketchikan and Saxman.
Some of them are unfamiliar with marijuana, so committee member Bob Sivertsen asked Ketchikan Police Chief Alan Bengaard to bring a sample.
“That’s exactly one ounce, so that is legal for possession,” Bengaard said as he handed over the clear plastic bag.
“That’s leafy material?” Sivertsen asked.
“That’s all bud material,” Bengaard said. “That’s the usable part.”
Sivertsen, who is a Ketchikan City Council member, and Assembly Member Glen Thompson were elected co-chairs of the committee, and it was decided that the group would meet about every two weeks through mid-June.
The committee won’t make any decisions, but its members will bring back recommendations to their respective elected bodies. Committee members agreed that cohesive regulations for the entire borough would make the most sense.
One topic that was discussed was a proposed ban on commercial marijuana operations within the borough. Thompson noted that whether to allow commercial marijuana is one of the top issues for the committee.
Sivertsen then suggested that a vote on retail pot sales would be useful.
“We do have some options of prohibition, where it talks about different things in the rules and regulations,” he said. “But I think that should be a community decision, rather than a legislative decision.”
Committee member Dave Timmerman, who sits on the School Board, said there already was a vote.
“My opinion is that it’s already been voted on. I don’t see why we would vote on it again,” he said.
A slim majority of Ketchikan voters favored marijuana legalization in the November election. The initiative calls for regulating marijuana like alcohol, but it includes a provision that allows local governments to opt out of commercial pot operations.
State lawmakers are grappling with how to regulate commercial sales on a statewide basis, and the committee members agreed that they shouldn’t get too far into local regulations until they have a better idea of what the state is going to do.
During public comment at the start of the meeting, Terrance Robbins of the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition expressed concern that legalized pot sales in Ketchikan could mean easier access for young people, because youth can simply ask someone 21 or older to purchase it.
Committee member Alan Bailey, who is an Assembly member, asked Police Chief Bengaard whether that was a concern for law enforcement. Bengaard said the black market for pot is pretty strong, and has been for many years.
“It’s been readily available my entire career,” he said. “That being said, I’m not sure what the difference is going to be moving forward with this.”
Timmerman said kids who want pot can get pot.
“Since the time I was 12 years old, (it’s been) really easy to go find weed anywhere,” he said. “That’s all the way from Anchorage to Yakutat to Kake to here to Craig. It’s there. Kids can get it if they want it. Period.”
The committee chose to defer the proposed ban on commercial pot in Ketchikan as they gather more information.
During committee member comments at the end of the meeting, Saxman Mayor Sylvia Banie stressed that she has no preconceptions about how to proceed with local marijuana regulations.
“I know that marijuana has been out there for a long time. There’s good and bad on everything,” she said. “This is going to be a learning curve for everybody and we need to keep an open mind as we continue.”
Committee member KJ Harris, a Ketchikan City Council member, said he would like to eventually see legal pot sales in the community.
“I’d like to be able to, at some time in my life, purchase a bag of weed in this town from whatever legal source it is, pay the state and the city and the borough a whole bunch of tax money, and not have to buy it from Bob out of his van,” he said.
Harris clarified that he wasn’t referring to committee member Bob Sivertsen.
Thompson noted that the committee has time to review still-evolving state regulations and other information as they come up with recommendations for Ketchikan.
The next Ketchikan Marijuana Advisory Committee meeting is April 13 at 5:30 p.m.in Borough Assembly chambers. Committee members agreed to have some evening meetings to allow for more public input.