Alaska: One step forward, two steps back by Jana Weltzin in Marijuana Venture

Alaska’s adult use marijuana program is moving along slowly, carefully and with the expected amount of drama and setbacks. Over the four years I’ve been involved in the commercial marijuana industry, one theme has remained constant in every state: the cannabis movement always takes one step forward and two steps back.

But on Oct. 4, 2016, Alaska took one huge leap forward and showed the prohibitionists that the movement has some clout. The Mat Su Borough — the largest borough in Alaska, spanning a whopping 25,000 square miles — was on the verge of opting out of the commercial marijuana market. So cannabis enthusiasts took to the streets, registering people to vote, holding educational seminars and posting campaign signs — good, old-fashioned home-grown campaigning. And guess what? It worked!

Mat Su voters rejected the proposed ban on commercial cannabis activity, but now the borough has to scramble to catch up with the rest of the market, which has already been licensing growers and retailers, processing land use permits and building out facilities. For Mat Su applicants, the Marijuana Control Board refused to even consider their applications until the election on the opt-out provision was decided. In fact, the Mat Su Borough Assembly put its land use and local regulation process on hold until after the vote.

Businesses are already active in other parts of the state. One business, Rosie Creek Farms, even completed its outdoor harvest before the frost hit.

Retailers have been approved by the state and a few have completed their local land use requirements. A couple, including Herbal Outfitters in Valdez, have opened their doors to shoppers.

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