Fairbanks steps up to the plate!

By Matt Buxton mbuxton@newsminer.com newsminer.com

FAIRBANKS — Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins plans to launch a working group to help form local regulations for commercial marijuana.

Following a community town hall meeting earlier this month that included representatives from the three local governments, Hopkins said he plans to bring forward borough regulations by as early as February.

“I certainly don’t want to sit in my office and say it ought to be this,” he said, “This is a community effort.”

Specifically, the purpose of the group is to “develop zoning standards, production and sales requirements, and determine what other use issues need to be considered for adoption by the assembly and, to the extent needed, city councils.”

The passage of Ballot Measure 2 in the November elections allows for possession, use and non-sale transfer of marijuana starting Feb. 24.

The road to commercial sales will be longer, and marijuana sales aren’t likely to begin until at least May 2016 as Ballot Measure 2 gives many months for the state to form and implement its own regulations on growing, testing and sales.

Local communities have the option to create a blanket ban on marijuana sales, but with Ballot Measure 2 passing by a wide margin in the borough, such a ban likely would be politically unpopular, Hopkins and others have said.

Although marijuana sales are more than a year away, Hopkins said there are some issues that should be addressed sooner than later, particularly if people are planning on getting into the business.

He said some real estate groups are already getting inquiries from Outside about available retail spaces.

The local regulations that could be introduced in February likely will focus around zoning and setting guidelines for operating hours and appropriate zones for marijuana-

related businesses to operate, Hopkins said.

“We have to deal with the business side of things,” he said. “Where they (marijuana businesses) will be, and very specifically where the businesses shall not be.”

He said that could amount to buffer zones for certain areas like schools, hospitals, daycare centers and halfway houses. The effort is being spearheaded through the Department of Community Planning, which handles zoning and land development.

One issue that will be important for the borough and the local city governments to consider, he said, will be the matter of private clubs.

While use of marijuana is prohibited in public places, Hopkins said it’s unclear just how those rules would apply to businesses and clubs. If marijuana clubs — places where people could bring marijuana to smoke — become popular when possession and use become legal, Hopkins said he’d rather have the borough’s zoning laws in place.

Last week the Anchorage Assembly announced it had formed a committee focused on marijuana sales. Its membership is four members, including two who supported a failed effort to do a blanket ban on sales.

Hopkins said he plans for the working group to be inclusive and include people representing groups like three local governments, police, educators from K-12 and higher education, substance abuse treatment advocates and advocates for legalized marijuana.

The first meetings are expected to take place in early January.

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics