Does the nose really know? Marijuana company says codes are too vague
In an ongoing series of violations, AlaskaSense, LLC was issued six odor violations in the month of May between May 4 and May 11. Land Use Enforcement officers detected a strong odor of marijuana beyond the property lines. The violations came before the municipality of Anchorage on Monday.
AlaskaSense owner Smadi Warden had her handlers permit revoked last week after an investigation from February deemed she and her company did not properly dispose of marijuana waste, failed to allow investigators into a waste dumpster and had the dumpster emptied while investigators were away.
The municipal code states:
The premises shall be ventilated so that the odor of marijuana cannot be detected by a person with a normal sense of smell at any lot line of the subject property.
AlaskaSense argues the wording “normal sense of smell” is too subjective. If that's the case, Assemblyman Chris Constant says a solution could be very expensive.
"Common sense tells you if you can smell it outside, you can smell it outside," Constant said. "It isn't that they have managed to stop the smell, it's that they have an ongoing problem. If a hearing officer invalidates the code that says smell is measured by a normal nose, then what happens is the city will have to invest in an expensive piece of equipment that requires a lot of staff."
Constant says it would cost around $12,000 per staff member to train on the smell detecting equipment-- money the city would be required to make up with larger fines.
"If that happens, this operator is going to penalize every other operator," Constant said. "We'll be forced to raise the penalties for smell violations. We'd have to triple or quadruple them to cover the cost of having this piece of equipment."
Leah Levinton, co-owner of one of Alaska's first marijuana businesses, Enlighten Alaska, says the rules and codes may be a little time consuming when it comes to paperwork, but overall, the businesses know what they have to do.
"Honestly, now that the regulations are solidified, we have a clear path of what we are supposed to do and how we are supposed to operate," Levinton said. "If you cross your T's and dot your I's, I don't think there is anything we should be afraid of or worry about."
Enlighten Alaska is a retail store. They do not cultivate marijuana, but they still installed a $25,000 HVAC system to comply with the odor code.
"The most challenging rules to abide by with the muni is the Title 21 compliance," Levinton said. "We have to apply for a change of use permit which translates to working through a special land use process. That process can be pretty time consuming and pretty grueling."
The permit is put in place to make sure the buildings are brought up to code for Title 21.
"Oftentimes, we are really restricted," Levinton said. "We have to have buildings located in the proper zoning, the special distance requirements and also finding a landlord that is cannabis-friendly that owns the building outright."
Levinton says that in this heavily regulated industry, it's important to be compliant and be a good neighbor.
"Be open and transparent with the enforcement agency and AMCO," Levinton said. "We're a good standing business. We pay our taxes on time every single month and we follow the regulations to a T."
Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office Director Erika McConnell says her office has yet to receive an appeal from Warden. In the meantime, Warden is able to care for her product, she just cannot sell it.
It's important to note that Cannabaska and AlaskaSense, both owned by Warden, are not the only marijuana businesses to violate codes. According to an email from AMCO enforcement supervisor James Hoelscher, his office has given out 33 notices of violation and has written 30 advisory notices for marijuana in the year 2018.
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