This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
Cannabis cultivators, retailers, consumers squeezed into a small Kenai living room Wednesday night to discuss ongoing problems within the marijuana industry and to come up with solutions to address them.
Amy Jackman, a cannabis business consultant with AK Canna Connection, and Dollynda Phelps, co-owner of Nikiski-based Peace Frog Botanicals, a limited marijuana cultivation company, organized the meet-up to prepare for the upcoming Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office meeting, which will be held in Kenai for the first time.
“It’s so important that we can all come together for this meeting,” Phelps told the crowd on Wednesday. “I think it’s important that we participate, and that everyone who can show up, should show up. I want to draw everyone else’s concerns so everyone can refine their comments and we can be as effective as we possibly can to convey our messages and need.”
Phelps began the discussion with issues she plans to bring up at the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office: the need to trim testing and application review times.
On Aug. 15, amendments were made to a regulation that determines the testing of products not sold to retail. Phelps said the amendment places an unnecessary financial burden on small cultivators.
“I believe the small cultivators are the backbone of the industry,” Phelps said. “This (regulation) will put us out of business.”
Phelps also brought up issues with the amount of time it takes for a license application to be reviewed. Phelps told the group she submitted an application for a license on March 30. Per state statute, the office should take 90 days to issue a license.
“I’m still like number 17 in the queue of under review,” Phelps said. “They haven’t even looked at my application yet.”
Phelps turned over the discussion to the crowd and asked people to list any concerns they might want to bring to public comment at the October meeting.
Among the issues brought up were video footage retention, on-site public consumption and festival permitting.
In Alaska, cannabis businesses must have a certain number of cameras and must retain video footage for 90 days. In other states, like Washington and Colorado, retention time is typically under 45 days. When AMCO requests footage from proprietors, they have three days to send the footage to the office. Patricia Patterson, owner of High Bush Cannabis, said it took over a week to download 40 days worth of footage.
“If we need to get video to them, by law they have three days,” Patterson said. “I can’t download 40 days (worth of footage) in three days. We are already going to fail. My license will be taken away if they call and need any video.”
Patterson has eight cameras. For standard cultivators, who can have more than 30 cameras, the download time would take much longer.
Phelps and members of the crowd then launched into a discussion about the functionality of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office. The crowd seemed to agree that the office wasn’t performing to the best of their ability.
“They say they’re busy, so they need to hire someone,” Phelps said. “They’re not doing their due diligence.”
At times, attendees’ frustration with industry regulators interrupted the discussion.
“I’m treated like a criminal,” a member of the crowd shouted.
“AMCO designed their statutes to make us fail,” another from the group said.
“AMCO needs new leadership,” said someone else. “They are failing on every level.”
Sen. Peter Micciche and Rep. Paul Seaton also attended the meeting. They encouraged the group to bring concerns they have with the industry to their lawmakers.
“I think we seriously need to get a group of legislators together from around the state… We need to get the word to them that we expect (AMCO) to adhere to statute,” Micciche said.
Micciche asserted that there were similar issues within the alcohol industry.
Members of the group expressed an overall lack of confidence of the board, particularly with the office’s director, Erika McConnell.
“I think it’s fair to say the previous director had more of a partnership with the (alcohol and marijuana) industry,” Micciche said. “This director seems to be almost at odds with the industry.”
“They are blatantly out in the open ignoring statutes and regulations and making up their own,” Phelps said.
Patterson told the group about several instances where she received a violation for using an emoji and for posting online about a contest sponsored by Lucky Raven Tobacco.
At the end of the meeting, the group talked about creating a regional representative system, where members of the cannabis industry can attend AMCO meetings to voice the concerns of cannabis businesses across Alaska.
Members of the group spent the rest of the meeting refining their public comment for the 10 a.m. Oct. 15 AMCO meeting at 145 Main Street Loop, in Kenai.
The Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office will hold a meeting at 145 Main Street Loop in Kenai on Oct. 15 at 10 a.m. To attend telephonically call 1-800-315-6338, access code 69173.