This March, Alaska became the first US state to allow its licensed dispensaries to create on-site pot tasting rooms. Public cannabis consumption is banned in all other rec-legal states and cities, with the exception of a few dispensaries scattered throughout San Francisco and a handful of lounges in Colorado. Thus, it's difficult for tourists to find places to legally consume en plein air.
Under Alaska's new consumption law, which went into effect on April 11th, dispensaries can apply for an additional license permitting them to turn an adjacent space into a smoking lounge. These lounges can take the form of outdoor patios or separate indoor rooms, as long as they are physically separated from retail areas. The law also gives local governments the right to limit what forms of cannabis can be consumed in these lounges, or ban them outright.
This week, the Anchorage Assembly approved an ordinance allowing the on-site consumption of cannabis edibles at its licensed dispensaries. Before approving the measure, the Assembly heard public testimony from local community members concerned that these new rules would lead to an increase in intoxicated driving.
Assembly member Christopher Constant acknowledged that there are no standardized measurements that can identify whether a driver is too stoned to operate their vehicle safely. "Our police officers are highly trained in identifying intoxicated drivers," Constant said to local NBC affiliate KTUU. "It's the testing that happens after — it's coming up with evidence — that's the challenge that has been bringing some concern."
After carefully considering these concerns, the Assembly voted 7-4 to approve the measure. Although the ordinance goes into effect immediately, stores will not be able to offer onsite consumption until they apply for a new license, which requires approval from both the city and the state.
"It could actually happen before the end of summer, but it's hard to say," Constant said to KTUU. "I anticipate an application will come in within the next few weeks but until we see an actual application, we won't know the exact process."
Dispensaries wishing to allow in-store edible tasting must set aside a separate area designated for this purpose. The city ordinance requires that these lounges have areas where dispensary staff can monitor customers to ensure their safety. Customers will only be allowed to consume edibles containing up to 10 mg of THC in stores, and all other forms of cannabis consumption — including smoking and vaping — remain prohibited in these tasting rooms.
The strict regulations regarding these lounges have somewhat dulled the enthusiasm of many local business owners who were hoping to open onsite pot lounges. "I think it's a step in the right direction," said Jordan Huss, vice president of Anchorage pot shop Great Northern Cannabis, to KTUU. "I don't think it's exactly what consumers and the industry want, but it's a good starting point for something bigger."
Huss added that the licensing process is “going to be a long road for most companies... Depending on building locations, layout, ventilation and finances... there's going to be a lot of things that tie in to whether or not they will be able to have on-site consumption in those facilities."