Setting Up the Framework: Alaska’s New Marijuana Control Board

As of February 2015, recreational marijuana is legal in Alaska. Just over half of voters voted in favor of Ballot Measure 2, which made it legal to cultivate and possess small amounts of marijuana in Alaska. Adults age 21 and over may possess up to one ounce of marijuana and have up to six plants in their homes. But before aspiring retailers can set up shop and start selling in Alaska, the state needs to develop a regulatory framework for its sale and consumption.

Enter the Marijuana Control Board, the five-member board that will create this regulatory framework and manage its future development and enforcement.

Who’s on the Board?

Five volunteer members serve on the Board, each representing a different interest group.

Loren Jones represents public health interests in Alaska. As the former director for the Alaska Divisions of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Jones will advise the Board in regard to mental health and substance abuse concerns.

Peter Mlynarik‘s area of expertise is public safety. As the current police chief for the city of Soldotna and a twenty year veteran Alaska State Trooper, Mlynarik understands the potential public safety issues that can arise with the new cannabis industry in Alaska.

Representing rural Alaska and its residents’ needs and concerns is Mark Springer, a member of Bethel City Coucil and the Alaska Municipal League.

The final two seats are taken by representatives of the cannabis industry. This is not set in stone – future iterations of the Marijuana Control Board may include a member of the general public in one of these seats. Currently, they are held by Bruce Schulte and Brandon Emmett, both of the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation. Emmett is the executive director for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation and Schulte has contributed significant input to legislative decisions about marijuana-related bills in the past.

Together, these individuals will work to develop state-wide rules and regulations for Alaska’s burgeoning cannabis industry that meet citizens’ needs.

What Does the Board Do?

Like the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, under which it will operate and share staff and resources, the Marijuana Control Board is tasked with developing and enforcing the state’s laws for marijuana sales and use.

In its first meeting in early July, the members of the Board determined that Alaska’s current marijuana laws need both updates and clarification. For example, the Board decided that the law must be clearer about what constitutes a personal cultivation operation from an illegal one. It also determined that the language in Alaska’s marijuana law must be amended to give villages the right to opt out of commercial marijuana sales, a right that other types of municipalities currently have.

These issues need to be worked out before the Marijuana Control Board may begin issuing licenses for aspiring retailers to sell recreational marijuana. Under the current timeline, the Board plans to begin issuing these licenses in May 2016. Until then, selling or purchasing marijuana without a license remains a criminal offense.

Photo Credit: Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería

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