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Anchorage mayor pushes to ban marijuana use in public places

By Jacquie Slater 9:50 PM January 13, 2015

Anchorage’s mayor, Dan Sullivan, is pushing to ban marijuana use in public places.

The muni is proposing an ordinance to amend some of the state laws regarding marijuana and hopes to have the changes in place by the time pot becomes legal in Alaska on Feb. 24.

The proposed ordinance dives a little deeper into the definition of what it means to consume, stating that it means consumption of marijuana in all forms. It also defines public place as a space “to which a substantial group of persons has access.” It’s those details that have some pot smokers concerned that Anchorage will not be a user-friendly environment.

Sullivan’s office says the ordinance was designed based on current alcohol and tobacco laws.

“We’ve started with sort of an absolute requirement, that you can’t use it in a public place,” said Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler.

The proposed ordinance states it is unlawful for any person to knowingly consume marijuana when the person is:

  1. on, in or upon any public place, except as permitted by ordinance, regulation, statute or permit; or
  2. outdoors on property adjacent to a public place, and without consent of the owner or person in control thereof.

Marijuana advocates are quick to point out their concerns with the ordinance.

“We think that the definition of public versus private space is overly broad,” said Bruce Schulte of the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation. “If you look at the text of the ordinance, it does include business establishments.”

Potentially, this ordinance could mean that bars, smoke shops and restaurants could not designate areas for pot use. And Schulte says that is unacceptable.

“It could inadvertently ban all marijuana consumption from all businesses, whether the business condones or encourages it or not,” he said.

Lawmakers counter that the proposed ordinance does leave a little wiggle room to establish regulations for business pot consumption permits.

“If the Assembly decides that, similar to alcohol, that we’re going to allow certain places to allow that as a business opportunity, then we would have to create a local code to make that possible,” said Wheeler.

Many advocates and lawmakers agree that regulations are needed to ensure public safety.

“If we look at marijuana, similar to alcohol, we understand that people who get high may present a danger to themselves or others,” Wheeler said. “If we look at it similar to tobacco, it has an effect on everybody around them if you’re in confined spaces where this stuff is being used.”

Per the ordinance, anyone caught consuming marijuana will have to pay a $100 fine each time they are cited.

The Anchorage Assembly will place the proposed ordinance up for discussion at a Jan. 27 meeting. At that time, the public will be allowed to weigh in during a public comment session.

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