A new cannabis club has opened its doors on a major street in Downtown Homer and some residents are taking full advantage of the opportunity to use marijuana in - what they call - a safe, social environment. But, the club might not be legal.
After the death of prohibition in 1933 black market liquor and infamous speakeasies were slowly left behind.
But it wasn’t all a smooth transition. Fast forward to present day and just like alcohol, legal marijuana has raised a lot of questions. Among them, are cannabis clubs legal?
The Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board says they’ve heard of cannabis clubs in Fairbanks, Ketchikan, Anchorage and the Central Kenai Peninsula. And now there’s a club in Homer that started on the 1st of January. Kachemak Cannabis Club goers say they have about 150 members.
“Last marijuana board meeting, Mark Robl said unless the legislator[s] change the laws to have a law against us that they’re not going to do anything against us so I’m going to try to feel comfortable and not be oppressed anymore,” said Ryan a member of the cannabis club.
Ryan is on the club's board of directors. We agreed not to use last names in this story because of the legal questions concerning the club.
“I’m probably the most shocked every time I come in. It’s like holy cow! This is happening,” said Ryan.
The club is heavy on books, snacks and yes, there’s a very noticeable smell of weed in the air. A counter holds all the essentials: a mason jar of marijuana buds, lighters, pipes and bongs.
The space isn’t very big and members pack in where they can. They bring the marijuana with them and share it.
“Yeah sharing that’s what the whole club is about. It’s kind of like a potluck. There’s plenty of stuff around Homer to go around. So, we’re never running out over here, yet,” said Ryan.
To be a member you have to be 21, you have to pay dues and you have to fill out a form. Scott, another member of the club, walks visitors through the process.
“Right, yes we have to have a membership entry fee to let everybody know that they’re valid to be in the club. We don’t want nobody coming in here that’s a felon or known troublemaker coming in here that’s going to cause issues with us,” explained Scott.
Scott claims to have used marijuana since he was about 14 years old. He says he was abused when he was a kid and suffers from PTSD. Marijuana is his substitute for prescription medicine.
“[It’s] better than taking medications that I was prescribed as a child with my brother. I was the one that was weaned off the meds and decided to use cannabis and my brother was still stuck on the Ritalin and stuff like that. He ended up going to prison because he was unable to control himself. I’m able to tolerate myself because of cannabis. Because I’ve been able to find other avenues of relief through social endeavors like this,” said Soctt.
The club members believe this “social endeavor” is legal because they say the state law that legalizes marijuana doesn’t specifically mention clubs.
Homer Police Chief Mark Robl is on the city’s Cannabis Advisory Board Ryan mentioned earlier. Robl did originally say the Homer Police wouldn’t take action against the club. Then, later, Chief Robl said a member of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board told him he was not interpreting state law correctly.
“I was under the misperception that cannabis clubs were being allowed to exist in a gray area of law in Alaska. What I learned yesterday through an exchange with the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board is that cannabis clubs are illegal in Alaska,” said Robl.
Robl says he thought clubs weren’t criminal as long as their members didn’t step out of bounds by, for example, selling marijuana. Even with the new information, Robl says, the police won’t take action against the club right away.
“We’ll try to deal with it civilly to start with. If necessary we’ll go down the criminal prosecution route that gets recommended to me by the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board,” said Robl.
State law does prohibit marijuana use in public. Cynthia Franklin, the Director of the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board says cannabis clubs are public businesses.
“The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board adopted a definition of in public taken out of chapter 11, the definition of public place, that basically said in public is a place to which the public or a substantial portion of the public has access, including businesses.”
Members of the Kachemak Cannabis Club don’t agree with Franklin’s opinion and say they’ll challenge any attempt to close the club in court.