The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By LEE REVIS
Editor, Valdez Star 

Marijuana opponents petition to be certified by city clerk

Signature gathering could begin early next week to put pot ban on ballot

 

Source: City of Valdez

This color-coded map shows the zoning of areas in Valdez. The town's outlying areas are included in the map included in the city council's packet for last Tuesday's work session.

Opponents of commercial marijuana could begin circulating a petition to ban pot businesses in Valdez as early as next week.

City Clerk Sheri Pierce said Monday that her office was preparing to certify a petition that will create a ballot initiative to ask Valdez voters if commercial marijuana businesses should be banned in the city limits.

If completed and certified, the initiative will appear in the 2017 municipal elections.

"This will not go on the May 3 ballot," Pierce said, referring to the upcoming elections for mayor, school board and city council seats.

The initiative process is lengthy according to Pierce.

"I just certified their sponsor list," she said.

Those sponsors - there are 15 listed on the application - are the only people who will be allowed to gather voter signatures.

"They'll need 25 percent of the registered voters that voted in the last election" to sign the petition before it can be put on next year's ballot Pierce said. "They have 90 days to get 191signatures."

Carl Hedman, a local minister, and Christy Franklin, a local businesswoman, are the lead and alternate sponsors.

Only sponsors listed on the ballot question petition are allowed to gather voter signatures, Pierce said. The petitions cannot be passed to non-certified signature gatherers or left in a public place for signatures. Signers must also be registered voters.

"They do have to be registered voters with the city of Valdez," Pierce said.

The petitions are public records and signers will be subject to public disclosure Pierce noted.

If the initiative is passed in the 2017 elections, any commercial marijuana business operating in Valdez will be required to shutter their doors within 90 days of its passage. State regulations will also prohibit businesses from operating within 10 miles of the city limits of Valdez should a ban be approved by voters.

What a citizen initiative cannot do is prohibit people from privately cultivating marijuana for personal use.

The move comes as the Valdez City Council considers zoning regulations governing where commercial marijuana facilities, including retail sales, cultivating facilities, manufacturing, and testing facilities will be allowed to operate within the city limits.

Council was slated to approve a second reading of an ordinance that calls for zoning ordinances to govern commercial marijuana activity in Valdez. A second ordinance spelling out what types of commercial activity will be allowed in certain zoning areas is up for consideration also.

"Administration has brought these ordinances forward with the understanding Council supports the general idea of commercial marijuana activity at some level," the agenda statement says. "That understanding is based on Council's decision last August to establish Chapter 5.06 establishing the Council as the "local regulatory authority," and the direction provided at the January 27, 2016 work session with the Council and the Planning & Zoning Commission where initial guidance was provided."

Pierce said that while the city council could call for a special election to consider the initiative if it is successful, she feels it is highly unlikely that would occur.

"If they directed me to do it, we would do it," she said.

A special election would likely cost around $10,000 Pierce said.

The zoning regulations before the Valdez City Council are complex.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Marijuana cultivation for personal use is legal in Alaska without special licenses.

"The first ordinance on the agenda proposes to amend Chapter 5.06 (Marijuana Regulation). Chapter 5.06 was originally created on August 17, 2015 when the Council passed Ordinance #15-5. In Section 5.06.020 the Council established itself as the "local regulatory authority" regarding commercial marijuana activity," the agenda statement says. "Chapter 5.06 addresses more general rules and regulations about commercial marijuana activity. The second ordinance on the agenda proposes to amend Title 17 (Zoning). The Title 17 ordinance provides for the locations (zoning districts) within the community where certain types of commercial marijuana activity will be allowed as either a permitted or a conditional use. That ordinance also outlines definitions and sign regulations related to commercial marijuana activity. These agenda statements will walk the Council through a timeline and description of the process taken to date. It will also highlight the specific changes being offered to the Council for consideration."

Valdez voters approved commercial marijuana legalization 726 to 466 in the 2014 elections.

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