Pot was the main topic of conversation during Monday’s meeting of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly, as it considered an ordinance to establish regulations for a commercial marijuana industry.
There was public comment for and against allowing commercial marijuana within the borough. Those speaking against it expressed concern about the dangers associated with marijuana, such as impaired driving. Terrance Robbins of the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition also cited studies that he says show the damage caused by high-potency marijuana.
“They were able to measure people who either don’t use marijuana or haven’t used marijuana recently, compared that to people who use very lightly and don’t use high-potency marijuana, and people who use high-potency marijuana, and it was significant the amount of brain damage these people were having,” he said.
Robbins says stores he’s visited in other states where pot is legal sell mainly high-potency pot. Robbins has advocated for a ban on retail marijuana in Ketchikan. Short of that, he asked for more stringent regulations and a public process for any proposed store.
Eric Muench spoke in favor of allowing commercial pot in Ketchikan. He says the borough shouldn’t adopt regulations that make it impossible for a retail establishment to open.
“The will of our local voters must be kept uppermost,” he said. “Some who originally opposed legalization are now trying to regulate it right back into its previous underground status, which will surely be the result of unnecessarily stringent and impossible to enforce rules.”
Assembly members acknowledged the concerns of people who oppose commercial establishments, but most said it’s better to have it regulated.
“Prohibition didn’t work for alcohol and I don’t think it’s working for marijuana, either,” said Assembly Member Bill Rotecki. “I would rather see things aboveground, so we know what’s going on.”
The Assembly voted unanimously to introduce the ordinance. It will come back for a second reading at the next Assembly meeting. If adopted, the ordinance will establish zones for different kinds of marijuana businesses, and buffers around schools, residential neighborhoods and other areas. Marijuana businesses would be restricted within those buffers.
Also Monday, the Borough Assembly introduced two related ordinances. The first establishes a local review process for state-issued marijuana license applications; the second includes regulations for any marijuana business that might open within the borough. Among those regulations is a provision that bans marijuana businesses on submerged lands or floating vessels.
Speaking of bans, last week, the Ketchikan City Council voted to ban all commercial marijuana operations within city limits. There was criticism from the public about the Council’s vote, because the item on the agenda had been listed as a discussion item rather than an action item, and the vote likely will be reconsidered.
Even without reconsideration, however, Borough Planning Director Chris French says the City Council’s action wouldn’t be final until it considered an ordinance and held a public hearing.
Also Monday, the Assembly voted 5-2 in favor of a resolution that states the borough will not annex any areas without a request from residents or property owners within that area. The motion is meant to reassure Prince of Wales Island residents that the borough does not intend to annex that island. Assembly Members Glen Thompson and Alan Bailey voted no.
The Assembly also voted 4-3 to narrowly approve the borough’s agreement with the City of Ketchikan to provide about $390,000 for the city-run public library. Assembly Members Mike Painter, John Harrington and Thompson voted no.
Check out the borough planning department online for maps of the buffer zones and more details about state and local regulations for commercial pot.