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Showdown Over Alaska's Cannabis Social Scene

Recreational cannabis use became legal in Alaska earlier this year, and the state is now finalizing proposed regulations for the industry. But the new rules won't include an integral part of cannabis culture in the Last Frontier - the various cannabis social clubs that have sprung up since legalization.

The Marijuana Control Board (MCB) was granted the authority to regulate four types of cannabis licenses: retail, cultivation, manufacturing and testing.

Their mandate didn't cover the social clubs, which had nonetheless sprung up across the state.

Most cannabis clubs are operated in a similar fashion. Members pay a fee to gain access to a space where they are free to bring and smoke their own cannabis with others. Owners claim that the "members-only status" means that their clubs are no longer public but private spaces, which aren't subject to the state's retail regulations.

However, the MCB disagrees with that interpretation of the law. They have adopted harsh penalties for anyone or any business that violates the licensing laws. Businesses can face fines up to $10,000 for their first offence and up to $50,000 for their third. Individuals face fines up to $5,000 for each offence.

To address the issue, the MCB voted in September to prohibit the social clubs until the state created a licensing system for them to operate. It then began issuing cease-and-desist letters to clubs.

But some owners are maintaining their characteristic defiance.

A year ago, TV reporter and business woman Charlo Greene made headlines after she did a story on her own cannabis club, and then quit her job on air to devote her time to the cause of legalization.

Theresa Collins, owner of Pot Luck Events in Anchorage, exhibited a similar fighting spirit when she learned of the MCB's decision to ban the cannabis social clubs.

"I'm still going to stand up for what's right," Collins told the Alaska Dispatch News in response to the MCB's actions.

Right now, the MCB is threatening to ban anyone who owns a club illegally from obtaining any future marijuana licenses, which means that they may have to shut down temporarily if they hope ever to run their businesses legally.

"We need some legislative guidance on this," board member Mark Springer told Alaska Dispatch News. "I think that right now, since (clubs are not) authorized, we may as well say they're not."

Collins remains hopeful that the state will create a licensing system for social clubs that will resolve the matter. The government has not signalled that it plans to accommodate the social clubs anytime soon.

The MCB regulations are still in draft form and it will be receiving public commentary until November 11. The board will meet Nov. 20 to make any final changes to the rules that will govern the recreational industry in Alaska.

h/t Washington Post, MJNews, Alaska Dispatch News, Leafly


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