Alaska Debates Who Regulates Marijuana


Ever since Alaska legalized recreational marijuana, state legislators and regulators have been furiously busy trying to set up the regulatory framework for the fledgling system. Getting anything accomplished in government is in itself a herculean task, especially when trying to regulate something as controversial as marijuana.

Depending on how these rules shape up, Alaska’s recreational marijuana market will either be a feast or famine. Currently, Alaska’s Alcohol Beverage Control board is handling the state regulatory efforts, but that may soon change if state Sen. Lesil McGuire gets her way.

According to Alaska Dispatch News, McGuire plans on introducing legislation that would create an independent marijuana regulatory board. Under the text of Ballot Measure 2, the state legislature has the authority to create a marijuana regulatory board, but is not specifically required to do so.

McGuire’s announcement came on the heels of a 36 page report aimed at answering some of the basic questions about marijuana regulation. The report was written at McGuire’s request and was released by her office.

McGuire spoke with News Miner about her main objective for the reports. “My goal was to get people a base level of information, and that can begin the dialogue.” Considering how clueless some politicians are about marijuana, a report of this nature seems reasonably warranted.

Aside from state senators, the advocates that made Alaskan marijuana a reality are also vying for a say in the coming regulatory process.

Bruce Schulte does public relations for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation. Schulte and the organization hope to share its ideas and voice concerns in the upcoming public hearings about regulating the marijuana market. Currently no date has been announced for the public hearings.

Speaking with McClatchy DC, Schulte outlined the CRCL’s ideal regulatory frame. “The best thing is to keep the rules as broad as possible and let the market decide who makes it or who fails.” The organization also believes in lowering registration fees and eliminating the lottery system for licensing. “People can’t plan for that,” Schulte added.

Regardless of how regulations pan out, the first hurdle to this system is deciding who makes the rules.  There are various advantages and disadvantages to having either the ABC board or a wholly new marijuana regulatory body.

A marijuana market run by the ABC board would have an easier time swiftly setting up the market, given the agency’s experience and pre-existing infrastructure. However, the intermingling of the alcohol and marijuana industries may create regulatory conflicts of interest. Separating agencies might make things better for the long term.

In the end, it does not matter who writes the rules as long as they are properly written. Regardless of whether McGuire gets her way or the ABC board wins out, what is most important is that the industry ensures the right people are appointed and that the right rules are written.

William Sumner, a freelance writer and marijuana journalist, was a staff writer for MJINews from May 2014 through February 2018. You can follow him on Twitter @W_Sumner.

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