Alcohol, marijuana groups concur on keeping control boards
Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration is justifying a push to repeal the state’s alcohol and marijuana control boards as an effort to “expand entrepreneurialism,” but groups in both industries already oppose it.
On Monday, the Dunleavy administration floated the possibility of transferring the authority of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and the Marijuana Control Board. Under the governor’s proposal, regulatory oversight by both boards — made up of industry, public and government officials — would instead by handled by the state’s commerce commissioner, Julie Anderson.
A letter to Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development employees laying out the cuts they face under Dunleavy’s austerity budget provides the following bullet points as justification for removing the two boards:
• The intent is to transfer the authority and responsibilities of the two boards to the commissioner and remove the marijuana control board and the alcoholic beverage control board
• Reducing the regulatory burden in efforts to expand entrepreneurialism
• Commissioner may adopt regulations and processes to allow alcohol and marijuana licenses to be processed more akin to that of professional licenses.
• This removes the limitations on the selection and appointment process of the director by the Governor
The Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, however, has criticized the Dunleavy administration for interfering with the entrepreneurialism the initial proposal seeks to expand. In recent weeks it has criticized Dunleavy’s selection of Fairbanks pot opponent Vivian Stiver as a Marijuana Control Board member, and questioned whether proposed state criminal statutes regarding marijuana have taken legitimate growers into account.
Dunleavy’s press secretary, Matt Shuckerow, said in an email that the primary purpose of eliminating the alcohol and marijuana boards is to reduce state costs associated with more than 150 boards and commissions operated by state government.
“As a reference point, other states, including Colorado, regulate recreational marijuana at the state agency level,” Shuckerow wrote. “This includes a collaborative process to develop industry regulations through formal rulemaking, which allows for stakeholder engagement before, during and after the adoption of formal rules and regulations.”
Shuckerow emphasized Tuesday afternoon that the bullet points in the letter were only preliminary in nature, adding that no initial calculations on estimated staff reductions or cost savings were immediately available.
“There’s going to be legislation that follows this proposal,” Shuckerow said.
Shuckerow reiterated the governor’s statement in response to criticism of Stiver’s selection, noting that Dunleavy recognizes “legal marijuana is the law of the land,” and hopes to let more Alaskans make their voices heard regarding pot.
Asked if the governor had any concerns regarding the ABC Board’s oversight of alcohol, Shuckerow denied that the move was related to concerns with either board’s oversight of its industry.
“This is seriously about getting rid of duplication and getting rid of boards that conduct similar functions and finding efficiencies that way,” he said.
Industry representatives were quick to fire back, however.
Sarah Oates, president and CEO of the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association, said in a statement Tuesday that the group “strongly opposes” the board’s repeal. She added that placing the state’s alcohol regulation “under the sole control of an individual, rather than a diverse group, would put businesses and the Alaskan public at risk.”
“Under the proposed changes (as generally stated, sans legislation), a single individual - whose experience and interaction with the alcohol industry could vary drastically from person to person - would be responsible for determining the regulatory climate,” Oates wrote. “This will lead to further inconsistencies in interpretation and enforcement, as well as uncertainty and confusion within the highly-regulated industry.”
Cary Carrigan, AMIA’s executive director, said Wednesday that abolishing the Marijuana Control Board in favor of oversight from Dunleavy’s commerce commissioner “just usurps the whole democratic process and concentrates all the power in the office of the governor.”
“It’s a sledgehammer to put in a thumbtack; they don’t know what they’re doing and they’re just swinging,” Carrigan said.
Carrigan said it’s really difficult to say what the governor’s agenda on marijuana is, but criticized his association with Stiver and his knowledge of the pot industry.
“He has aligned himself with people that are uneducated and don’t understand the dynamic that this operates in — that there are medical needs, that there are veterans who rely on this,” Carrigan said.
In the wake of the move to repeal the boards, Carrigan said, CHARR and AMIA “are perfectly aligned on pushing back on this.” He also questioned the administration's economic rationale for doing so.
“The savings that would be generated by doing this are really negligible because we pay for ourselves,” Carrigan said. “It was designed for the marijuana industry not to be a burden; our fees, our regulatory structure are designed so that we are self-funding.”
For now, however, Carrigan has placed his trust in the state Capitol rather than the governor’s mansion.
“I also have hope that the Legislature can still work this out over the next four years,” Carrigan said. “There’s still a process in this country at this point, by God, where we have coexisting, coequal branches of government.”
Correction: An initial version of this story incorrectly identified the state's commerce commissioner as Kelly Tshibaka, not Julie Anderson.
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