Alaska Marijuana Laws Leave Social Clubs in Question

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A newly appointed attorney general has taken a different perspective on Alaska marijuana laws than were intended by the lawmakers responsible for passing the bill to legalize recreational marijuana. Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, recently appointed by Gov. Bill Walker, has declared that consumption of cannabis at marijuana clubs and bars will be illegal in Alaska. Recreational marijuana was legalized in Alaska in 2014 and, initially, all forms of public marijuana consumption were banned. Last year, the industry managed to get approval for onsite marijuana use at licensed retail stores. Lindemuth has made it clear that this won’t include social clubs.

Cracking Down on Cannabis Clubs

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A reinterpretation of the word “public” casts a shadow on the future of private cannabis social clubs in Alaska.

“Under Alaska law, a business cannot sell or provide marijuana or allow marijuana to be consumed on the premises unless it is licensed as a retail marijuana store by the Marijuana Control Board,” says Lindemuth. The state’s Alcohol and Marijuana Office requested the recommendation, stating that they are already aware of 5 or 6 marijuana clubs currently operating in Alaska and they will now need to work with law enforcement to address what is being considered illegal marijuana use. Up until this point, legislators have been a little more relaxed on the subject.

Different Interpretations of the Alaska Marijuana Laws

Legislators have been very unhappy with Lindemuth’s decision and a joint meeting of the House and Senate judiciary committee was held at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office on Wednesday to discuss the issue. The lawmakers argued that Lindemuth had the incorrect definition of “public”. While they agree that smoking in open places or businesses open to the general public should be outlawed, they believe that the marijuana clubs in reference require a membership and therefore can’t be considered public. Pot Luck is one such private club in Anchorage, with 6,000 members who will all be unhappy to see it shut down.

The House Judiciary chairwoman Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, stated on Wednesday, “There are lots of definitions of what a public place may be for different purposes. I think when most people voted on the initiative, to the extent that they were looking at public places, they figured that just meant you can’t have people smoking joints while walking down the street. I think that’s what the definition of public meant to most people.”

Open to Legal Changes

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High times at the Pot Luck Cannabis Club in Anchorage. (photo credit: www.alaskajournal.com)

Lindemuth disagreed, stating that if people are congregating and smoking around people they don’t know, then they are in a public place. She clearly expresses that the law can be changed through the proper processes. She is not interested in impeding the law from changing but she is clear that the Alaska marijuana laws as they are written do not allow for smoking in the clubs.

A big issue for many is that, while recreational marijuana is legal in Alaska (unlike neighboring states that have legalized the plant), there was no infrastructure in place for a recreational market. Medical marijuana has been legal in Alaska since 1998 but patients were allowed to grow it at home and there were no licensed growers, processors or dispensaries in the state. There has been a lot to organize as far as Alaska laws, licenses and regulations go. Cary Carrigan, the executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, doesn’t think this will stick in the future. Rather, he believes this to be just another bump to smooth out as the industry develops. Time will tell whether this is a larger issue or one that will smooth as the country treads the roads of legalization more regularly.

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