Onsite consumption could become a reality for Alaska’s marijuana retail shops in the near future. The state Marijuana Control Board is taking public comment on proposed regulations that would allow consumers to use marijuana products at regulated establishments. The Homer City Council supported onsite consumption at its meeting Monday, but the council also recommended that only edibles should be consumed publicly due to concerns over first responders.
The Homer Cannabis Advisory Commission passed its onsite consumption recommendation to the council back in August, and initially it only excluded smoking.
Commission member and Homer Police Chief Mark Robl was concerned that first responders might get high if they’re exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke while responding to a call at an establishment. But, the commission did note that marijuana vaping devices, similar to an electronic cigarette, would be allowed.
The council delayed its decision last month after council members asked for more information on the vaping issue.
The council approved a series of amendments proposed by council member Donna Aderhold on Monday, asking the state board to exclude vaping and the use of marijuana concentrates, also known as dabbing, on top of smoking.
Aderhold explained that she based her decision on two memos from Police Chief Robl and Fire Chief Bob Painter asking the council to err on the side of caution, but advisory commission and city council member David Lewis pushed back.
“Seeing vaping, I cannot agree with those things that vaping hangs in the air like smoke would,” Lewis argued. “Vaping, you are basically just expelling the water vapors and they just disappear. They do not stick around.”
Aderhold’s amendments passed in a 4-2 vote, with council members Lewis and Catriona Reynolds opposing the changes, but when it came down to the recommendation itself, the council was split.
Council member Heath Smith said he is concerned that patrons will mix marijuana and alcohol at both bars and retail pot shops.
“I don’t know whose loved one has to die as a result of it for us to say, ‘Oh, maybe that was a bad idea,’” Smith said. “People acting independently of themselves in their homes or deciding to consume any other place, that’s a completely different conversation. This is about what we’re facilitating, and do we really want to do that. I say no.”
Smith and council members Tom Stroozas and Shelly Erickson voted against sending the letter to the state control board. Mayor Brian Zak cast his tiebreaking vote in favor of the measure.
The state board will continue to take public comments until Oct. 27.
In other business, City Manager Katie Koester presented the 2018 draft budget to the council. The $25 million spending plan is relatively flat compared to last year. The city expects about $24 million in revenue in 2018. Nearly half of that comes from sales tax, which is expected to remain flat.
Koester told council members that while the budget is balanced right now, the council will have to keep its on Juneau as the Legislature grapples with the state fiscal situation.
“Everything rolls downhill, right. We have to keep an eye out in Juneau for decreasing their contributions to PERS (Public Employees’ Retirement System) funding, cuts to contract services such as community jails and maintenance contracts we have with the state,” she explained.
Koester noted that the council should also consider the tax cap increase that failed on the borough ballot this fall. With an ongoing $4 million budget gap, the borough will likely look to property taxes to fill the fiscal shortfall.
“We’ll see if that bears out, but again, those tax payers are our tax payers as well. So, just being cognizant of that fiscal situation,” Koester added.
The council will work through the budget going into the winter months before its final approval in December.
The council also certified the Oct. 3 election results and swore in new council members Rachel Lord and Caroline Venuti. They will take council members Reynolds and Lewis’ seats on Oct. 30.