Editor, Valdez Star 

Marijuana: opponents fail to change minds at planning and zoning

Commission recommends allowing commercial grows despite vocal naysaying


Valdez Star photo

Samuel Petrovitch was encouraging people in Valdez to attend Wednesday night's Planning & Zoning meeting. He said he is protesting commercial marijuana regulations pending in Valdez.

Opponents of commercial marijuana failed to persuade the city's Planning and Zoning Commission to quash local regulations that - if passed by city council - will allow cultivation of cannabis in commercial retail outlets in the business district and areas zoned commercial/ residential.

The move came Wednesday night after the commission held a public hearing on the matter, before it's vote during its regular meeting.

The matter will next come before the Valdez City Council at its next meeting, April 5.

Vocal opposition to commercial marijuana in Valdez has risen in recent weeks as city officials work to craft local regulations that will govern how and where marijuana will be grown, sold and processed.

Samuel Petrovitch let his voice be heard Monday when he stood with a sign on Galena Street and later at the Valdez Post Office, announcing an "anti-marijuana dispensary meeting."

Petrovitch was likely referring to Wednesday night's Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

Statewide, voters passed an initiative in the statewide elections in November, 2014, legalizing recreational marijuana and calling for its commercial sales to be regulated "like alcohol."

The initiative allows municipalities to self-regulate commercial sales and growing operations.

Valdez voted in favor of legalization 726 to 466.

The city received 14 written comments on the proposed Valdez regulations - with 12 of the 14 comments protesting commercial marijuana in one way or another.

Included in the commentary was a statement from Tracy Gilson, who owns and operates The Valdez Dance Company, a studio catering to up and coming youth.

Gilson said in her written comment she is concerned about the license application that is pending for a commercial sales operation on the same street as her studio, which she says will be within 150 feet of her front door.

State regulations prohibit commercial marijuana activity within 500 feet of schools or "a recreation or youth center."

The city's legal council did not have a concise answer as to whether not the dance studio or other possible businesses and organizations were covered under the prohibition.

The attorney, Jake Staser, said the state's marijuana board did not give the city clear direction.

"When asked specifically about the status of the dance studio, library, connecting ties, and the college dorms the Director of the Marijuana Control Office, which oversees the Marijuana Control Board informed me that that the Board will not make determinations regarding the status of particular premises as "youth or recreation centers" until an application for a commercial facility within 500 ft. of the questionable premises has been filed and either 1) the city protests or 2) a private citizen objects," a memo to the city said.

Rick Ballow, who is planning to do business as Herbal Outfitters, has began the process of applying for a commercial sales license. He plans to open shop at the building across from city hall on the Fairbanks Street side, the same street as the dance studio.

Christy Franklin, who owns the Weathered Anchor, a consignment store in the same building as the dance studio, joined Gilson with her concerns.

Michael Liljedahl, who has began the process of obtaining a commercial marijuana grow license from the state, argued in favor of allowing commercial growing of marijuana in areas zoned commercial/residential.

Phil Merioles, pastor of the Nazarene Church in the Zook Subdivision, submitted a letter against commercial marijuana, arguing that, as a foster parent, he has seen children and families suffer from drug abuse.

He also said greed is the motivating factor behind the license applications.

"Those who are trying to get into the retail and growing of marijuana already have more financial resources and the average person in the city of Valdez," his letter said. "how many more are broken lives is worth the padding of retirement accounts just to go after more money?"

Before taking public testimony on the matter, Don Haase, commission chair, asked attendees to respect the feelings of people expressing their points of view and recognize that those for or against the regulations are sincere in their beliefs that their side of the argument is for the better good of the community.


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