National Public Radio image.

National Public Radio image.

Ketchikan City Council members shared their opinions and concerns about legalizing commercial marijuana sales during last night’s City Council meeting.  Council Members KJ Harris and Bob Sivertsen serve on the ad hoc Marijuana Advisory Committee, which also includes Borough Assembly, School Board and Saxman elected officials.

Last fall, voters approved a measure making it legal for adults to possess, grow and use marijuana.  Selling pot is not legal anywhere in the state and MAC members are tracking the progress of state officials.

Sivertsen says a state marijuana control board may be seated by July and a second draft of regulations out for public comment by August. Final regulations are expected by November. He says if a municipality approves commercial sales of pot, it cannot place certain restrictions on items.

“We talked about restricting edible products or concentrates and they said, ‘No”. We can’t do that at a local level. The state will figure out the packaging and labeling requirements because it would be too hard to regulate if everybody was doing something different.”

He says the state is also considering zoning restrictions that would keep commercial establishments a certain distance away from schools, parks, and other public facilities.

Council Member Dick Coose asked if anything could be done to keep pot away from children at home.

“Is anybody at all talking about smoking this junk in a house with kids under 16 or 17 or whatever the age is? That’s where it gets to kid’s brains. And those parents that don’t have enough sense not to smoke it in the house is… Do we have any control? I guess probably not.”

Council Member Judy Zenge, responding to Coose, expressed her own concerns.

“Well we don’t have control of people who drink irresponsibly around their kids or drive drunk with their kids either.  I think if we’re going to do this, we have to take into consideration there is going to be some addiction. If we go forward, when we go forward, I just want to make sure we’re prepared for that. As a small community, how are we going to pay for that? We know that the community wants people that are addicted to be served at home, around their families and their support system. And that’s been a problem here in the past.”

Zenge says regulating a commercial pot industry will require additional staff and she wants the council to consider this when making decisions.

Because marijuana is a federally-controlled substance, only cash transactions would be allowed. Money from pot sales could not be deposited in a federally-insured financial institution. Some council members are concerned that may make it difficult to collect taxes.

Harris, who publicly acknowledges his marijuana use, says pot is not addictive and keeping prices down may keep people from buying it off the streets.

“I’ve been messing with cannabis for 45 years.  You don’t get addicted to weed. But I understand the thought process that’s coming out of your brain.  The other thing, on the taxing, you just lower your prices.  It’s a plant that may cost 20 to  30 bucks to start. We know what the going price is, we can always lower the price to hopefully catch  up to Bob in his van. Not that Bob (Sivertsen) the other Bob in the van that I keep talking about.  This is not that difficult a thing that I can see, but it sure is becoming complicated.”

Harris encouraged council members to speak to local residents about commercial marijuana sales to find out how the community really feels.

The Marijuana Advisory Committee will continue to follow developments with state regulations and bring back recommendations for the local government entities to consider.

The next MAC meeting is May 27th at noon in Borough Assembly Chambers.  The next regular City Council meeting is Monday, June 1st, beginning at 7:00 pm in City Council Chambers.