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Council Work Session On Commercial Pot Sales Sparks Earnest Debate

Nov 25, 2015

Locals speak their minds at a city council work session on commercial marijuana sales in Unalaska.
Credit Chrissy Roes

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, a work session on commercial marijuana sales in Unalaska prompted an earnest yet respectful debate among attendees.

Just like the results of the online and paper surveys distributed by city staff at a recent public forum on the topic, opinions were split roughly 50/50 for those for and against allowing a cannabis businesses to open on the island.

Resident Carol Bunes said she supports a retail store here.

"I think because we are an island and you can't bring it in federally - or  over the waters - that it should be an option. Because that's what the people of this city voted for. Not everybody can grow it, not everybody wants to grow it...maybe their landlords won't let them grow it. Older people...you know, it takes a lot of skill, I think, to grow it," Nunes said. "I understand there is plenty of alcohol and drugs around, and I don't think that a retail store is going to make it any different for kids getting their hands on it."

Captain Rick Entenmann of Alaska Marine Pilots disagreed.

"My concern is that probably 90 to 95 percent of the jobs - directly or indirectly - in this town, in this community, are from in the fishing industry. And, I mean, those guys can't be buying this stuff," Entenmann said. "There are federal guidelines out there, we are subject to federal marine transportation guidelines. I don't get it. I don't understand it. In a maritime industry town like this...and this is on the table. It's ridiculous."

A handful of audience members who are parents raised concerns that a retail store would increase the availability of cannabis to their children.

The work session raised more questions than were answered, and the mayor and council directed the city manager to seek answers for a long list of those questions.

This week's session was the first of what promises to be several public meetings on the topic between now and February. If the city doesn't enact local rules by then, the council won't have a say in whether someone opens a businesses here or not.

City attorney Charles Cacciola attended the meeting by speaker phone. He jumped in near the end of the discussion to provide some clarification on legalities, such as how a business would transport large amounts of commercial cannabis product to the island. That's if the product was grown and tested elsewhere in the state.

"Given the tracking requirements for marijuana...as you mentioned, all marijuana sold in a licensed retail store has to be tracked from seed to sale, it's not going to be possible to have a retail store that sells marijuana that has been transported across the state in an unlawful manner," Cacciola said.

Moving on from the work session, the Council voted unanimously to reduce the number of taxicab permits to 18. They also voted to provide a tax exemption for local small businesses.

Mayor Shirley Marquardt announced that there is an opening for one of the public seats on the Museum of the Aleutians board of directors. There is also a public seat vacancy on the Clinic's board of directors. Those interested should talk to City Clerk Cat Hazen.