On site consumption was approved in Alaska last December in a 3-2 vote by the Marijuana Control Board. While many were excited at the idea of being able to use small amounts of recreational cannabis in approved establishments, the momentum appears to be stagnating.
So far, most cannabis business owners are shying away from being the first to open their doors with a legal consumption site, if and when the regulations finally go through. While the vote was approved, there is a long road ahead before this will be a reality.
In order to have a consumption lounge, the building would need to be a standalone structure, which puts many businesses out of the running. Alaska is home of the strip mall, which isn’t allowed in the proposed plan. A cannabis lounge can’t be connected to any other buildings due to the concern of shared air space. Currently, Alaska doesn’t have many stand alone shops that are large enough to contain both a retail store and a consumption area.
So far, every Anchorage cultivator or store owner I’ve interviewed has commented that they have no plans to move forward with onsite consumption. Most doubt it will be occurring anytime in the near future, especially now that the Dunleavy administration is in power. With Dunleavy’s proposal to dismantle the Marijuana Control Board, there seems to be little help that onsite consumption will be signed off anytime within the next few years.
In some ways it feel like two steps forward, ten steps back. Despite the support of the voting public, which legalized commercial marijuana in 2014, many in office are doing all they can to keep the new industry from moving forward as swiftly as it could be. There’s a disconnect from those working within the industry and those creating the rules and regulations. Sit in on one of the monthly MCB meetings and it will become quite obvious.
Cannabis business owners are faced with unique challenges, such as where to store their money and how to pay their bills, resorting to the old school methods of cash payment or money orders, with only one local financial institute willing to do their banking. Credit Union 1 has been working on a pilot program that would offer banking services to a handful of businesses. Not everyone who made the short list took them up on the offer though, as the luxury of banking came with a rather high price, upwards of $3,000. Evan Schlossberg, co owner of The Frost Farms in Anchorage, commented, “I think most businesses don’t actually have that extra money on hand. The ones that are making more money than they owe are spending that opening new businesses.”
While progress is certainly being made in the Cannabis industry, there’s still much work to be done. As long as the plant continues to be a schedule 1 substance, it’s likely we won’t see other banking institutions opening their doors to the industry, as federal regulations make this nearly impossible, despite the healthy tax revenue (upwards of 11 million for fiscal year 2018) that Cannabis brings into the state budget.
While the industry faces many unique challenges due to the regulation of cannabis, one thing is certain; cannabis isn’t going anywhere. It’s only getting larger and stronger.
And as we all know, it’s the tax revenue that speaks the loudest.
With Summer creeping closer and daylight returning, businesses are projecting to see an increase in sales. While some shops slowed down a bit over the Winter months, most saw only minor shifts. As tourism season begins in the Spring, we can all be certain that tax revenue will increase.