Alaska lawmakers and the state attorney general, Jahna Lindemuth, squared off Wednesday over a legal gray area that has the future of marijuana smoking clubs up in the air.


Last month, Lindemuth opined that the clubs are legally public places — like movie theaters — because even though members must pay to enter, anyone can become a member.


“Think of the board room at Alaska Airlines. That’s still a public place, even though a private membership is required and they do serve alcohol there and they are licensed and regulated by the Alcohol Control Board,” Lindemuth told members of the the House and Senate Judiciary committees at Wednesday’s hearing on the status of marijuana legalization.


The ballot initiative that made pot legal in Alaska barred public consumption, but lawmakers argued the legal definition of public is more lenient than Lindemuth determined.


“We have a law that says you can’t urinate in public, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go to the bathroom in a public place,” said Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. LeDoux says she thinks the intention behind the ballot initiative was to ban smoking in places outdoors, like parks and streets.


Sen. Lesil McGuire, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed, saying the state risks over-regulating to a point that’s “unalaskan.”


“We don’t want you going into the Elks club busting our veterans that might be consuming marijuana peacefully with fellow people that have served in a war, just as an example,” McGuire said.


Lindemuth suggested lawmakers may want to make changes to state law surrounding the definition of a public place.


The next legislative session starts in January. In the meantime, the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office has been at odds about how to proceed. Cynthia Franklin, director of the office, told lawmakers she has sent letters to six of the clubs, notifying them of the issue, but has not enforced Lindemuth’s determination.


The Marijuana Control Board will meet in Nome next month.


KTVA 11's Liz Raines can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.


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