By Jenny Neyman
The city of Soldotna is taking a wait-and-see approach to commercial marijuana activity.
The city council voted Wednesday to enact a two-year moratorium on the production, testing and sale of marijuana. Council member Regina Daniels submitted the ordinance. Those in support said there are just too many unknowns.
“I just don’t think we’d ready for it in town at this time. I think it will end up costing more. And I know it’s still here, I know it’s going to be here, people are going to smoke it,” said council member Linda Murphy. “I don’t want to criminalize marijuana. But I think in a couple of years we’ll see how it plays out in Kenai, we’ll see how it plays out in Anchorage.”
A few members of the public spoke in favor of the ordinance, some against marijuana in general, others in favor of taking a cautious approach.
“Right now the (state) Marijuana Control Board, in my opinion, is more of a work in progress,” said Barbara Jewell, of Soldotna. “This is new to the state of Alaska, and I think we could learn from other states, as well as cities, from the mistakes or whatever they fumble through what’s happened now.”
Many more people testified against the ordinance. Joyce Cox, of Soldotna, said a moratorium doesn’t make sense financially.
“We’re going to lose out,” she said. “We need to be aware of the declining state budgets. This is revenue that we are going to be losing. And I believe that the revenues from the sales of marijuana — and I need to tell you, I am not a user — but I do think we need that revenue for the city.”
Patricia Patterson, who owns Lucky Raven Tobacco in Soldotna, said banning commercial marijuana won’t do anything to stop marijuana from being used and distributed in the city.
“Marijuana is being sold today, it’s being smoked today. All this is doing is saying, ‘I don’t want to see it.’ That’s all this is,” Patterson said.
Council member Meggean Bos-Marquez attempted to amend the ordinance to a one-year time frame. The amendment failed. She and council member Keith Baxter then voted against the two-year moratorium.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen. We didn’t know what was going to happen when big box stores started opening up in our city, so I think that we just need to be open-minded about it,” she said.
Baxter said he couldn’t think of a legitimate reason to ban commercial marijuana operations.
“The best answer I can come up with is fear. Fear that regulating sales is somehow a personal endorsement of a taboo substance, and the fear that regulating sales will somehow bring new and negative impacts to our community. And I don’t share those same concerns,” he said. “Also, the threat marijuana poses to public health, safety and moral welfare is no greater than that of liquor, tobacco, pornography and lap-dance sales, but no one is speaking out to remove them from our economy. To the contrary, we hold beer festivals on public land and are lobbying to allow more liquor licenses in our town.”
The council also approved an ordinance to give the city local regulatory authority over marijuana, meaning it can set rules governing its commercial use, if it so chooses. And, as Daniels pointed out, the council has the authority to end the moratorium at any time.