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

Editor, Valdez Star 

Marijuana zoning regulations passed by Valdez City Council Monday

Foes of legalized pot asked for moratorium which was rejected by officials


Valdez Star photo

Mayor Ruth Knight, right, voted against the new marijuana zoning code last Monday night, shortly after taking the oath of office, administered by city clerk Sheri Pierce, left.Mayor Ruth Knight, right, voted against the new marijuana zoning code last Monday night, shortly after taking the oath of office, administered by city clerk Sheri Pierce, left.

Rules governing where commercial marijuana will be allowed in Valdez were finalized by the Valdez City Council Monday night.

The zoning regulations, which will allow cultivation in retail outlets and in certain residential zones with a conditional use permit, passed by a vote of 5-2 during the regular council meeting.

Council member Lea Cockerham and Mayor Ruth Knight voted against passage of the zoning regulations. Both are employed by Valdez City Schools District.

Knight, who was sworn into office at the beginning of the meeting, said she was torn how to vote on the regulations, which were up for a final reading.

"I was hoping and praying this would be solved before I took office," she said before voting. "I'm torn."

Knight says she voted against the measure put before voters in 2014 that legalized recreational marijuana in Alaska.

She said she has seen marijuana hurt youth and she hopes that legalized marjiuana will not cause further harm to young Alaskans. Conversely, she recognized that marijuana was legalized by a majority vote.

"As a teacher, that's what pulls my heartstrings," she said. "This is a very hard vote for me."

The passage of local zoning regulations has been a long road for city officials.

Carl Hedman, a local pastor who is spearheading a petition drive to overturn zoning regulations by putting a ballot measure before Valdez voters in the May 2017 elections, asked council to institute a moratorium on allowing commercial marijuana.

"I would like to request the city council put in a moratorium on marijuana," he said during the public comment period before the council voted.

Doug Davies, a former candidate for city council who is a backer of Hedman's petition and an outspoken critic of legal marijuana, also asked for a moratorium, arguing that the Legislature has not yet finalized commercial marijuana laws and it would be wise for local regulators to stop any further activity until it is known what the final state laws will look like.

"We have enough intoxicants in this community," he told council. "We don't need anymore."

Council members Nate Smith and Chris Moulton, both of whom were recently reelected to office, said they were backing the zoning changes before casting their votes.

"This was the will of the people," Smith said when Hedman asked for the moratorium.

Smith noted that the measure to legalize marijuana and regulate it like alcohol was passed with 64 percent of the popular vote, and that council members voting in favor of the zoning regulations are following the will of voters. He also said putting in a moratorium and waiting to pass local regulation is counter-productive.

"I feel that's kicking the can down the road," he said.

Smith had originally proposed banning all commercial marijuana cultivation in areas with any type of residential zoning, but changed his position after hearing public testimony in favor of allowing it with a conditional use permit, or CUP.

Moulton said he was not going to tell consenting adults what to do.

Rick Ballow, the backer behind Herbal Outfitters, a new business with a retail marijuana license pending before the state marijuana board, argued in favor of passing the zoning regulations, as did Michael Liljedahl.

Liljedahl has a conditional use permit application to open a marijuana cultivation facility pending before the Planning and Zoning Commission.

As of Tuesday, no commercial marijuana licenses have been issued for Valdez.

Some council members asked what the ramifications will be if Hedman's anti-marijuana petition is approved by the city clerk's office and is passed by voters in 2017.

"A yes vote would prohibit all commercial marijuana in Valdez," City clerk Sheri Pierce told council.

She also reiterated that if a commercial marijuana ban were put in place in Valdez, it would also prohibit commercial marijuana businesses within 10 miles outside the city limits.

Source: Wikimedia commons

Commercial marijuana cultivation got a boost in Valdez after Monday night's council meeting.

"If a municipality votes to opt out, the ban extends 10 miles beyond the city limits," she said.

While state law allows municipalities to regulate and outright ban commercial marijuana operations such as retail stores and testing facilities, it cannot prohibit personal possession or consumption of marijuana, or growing it for personal use within the parameters of state law.

"...people age 21 and over can legally possess, outside of their homes, up to an ounce of marijuana and can grow up to six plants in their home (with up to three being mature, flowering plants)," a public service announcement issued by the State of Alaska says. "Adults may also give up to an ounce of marijuana and up to six plants to another adult."

Sales of marijuana without a state license remains a criminal offense.


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