Recently, the former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin made a strong statement about her support for legalization, saying that legalizing cannabis is “no big deal.” This support comes at an important time for pro-cannabis Alaskans, since the state is trying to figure out what to do about on-site consumption. While the recreational sale of cannabis has been legal in Alaska for a year, the laws regarding on-site consumption have been murky, up until now.
The Alaskan Marijuana Control Board (MCB) voted to allow consumption of cannabis in regulated public areas on November 20th. The board voted 3-2 in favor of the amendment which allows consumption in designated areas of recreational cannabis stores. The MCB director, Cynthia Franklin, said this amendment will be a placeholder until specifics are decided on at a later date.
Before implementation, the amendment requires a formal review by the Department of Law followed by approval by Lieutenant Governor Bryon Mallott, whose duty includes filing and publishing state regulations. This is a huge shift in thinking by the MCB who, in August, looked to ban cannabis social clubs outright. When cannabis was first legalized in Alaska, a few social clubs opened with the intent of allowing for consumption in a public setting. They argued that they were operating legally, but the MCB disagreed. When the MCB attempted to ban these clubs, there was an outcry from supporters and demonstrations at the MCB. Demonstrators questioned whether the MCB even held the authority to shut the clubs in the first place. Looking at the recent vote, it is clear if not surprising that the MCB has decided to switch direction and allow tourists and residents alike a place to get together and enjoy cannabis products.
If the Lt. Governor approves the amendment, the state will see the first cannabis cafés to operate in a fully legal capacity. Local business owners and supporters have been waiting for the chance to establish social clubs in style of the famous Amsterdam cafés. This legislation marks their best chance at achieving those goals. While cannabis social clubs exist in some of the states that have voted for recreational legalization, the laws have not specifically addressed the issue of consumption for tourists, visitors, and residents who may want to consume cannabis outside of their homes, leaving the idea of on-site consumption up for debate. This was first questioned in Colorado, when legalization did not allow for a safe and legal place for tourists to enjoy cannabis. Alaska would be the first state to formally allow public consumption, whereas in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, smoking in public places is illegal and cannabis can only be consumed at private residences.
Washington is going in the opposite direction as Alaska and has recently banned social cannabis clubs outright, declaring their operation a felony. Oregon has not banned or permitted social clubs, opening the doors for clubs around the state, while Colorado still wrestles with the confusion of whether cannabis clubs should be allowed to operate.
The debate may continue in states that have already legalized cannabis, but two states, California and Massachusetts, are working on their own initiatives for next year, hoping to avoid this gray area by specifically allowing on-site consumption in their legislation. If Alaska is successful in allowing for on-site consumption, the support for café style shops may become more appealing to states that have murky laws, and other states that have yet to legalize cannabis. This would change the way tourism handles cannabis and would only make the plant more profitable for the states which have allowed recreational cannabis to exist, in turn boosting their local economy and clarifying the rules of consumption.