This story published in the Peninsula Clarion.

The Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office met in Kenai for the first time, with members of public from across the state convening at the Kenai Legislative Office on Tuesday morning to present public testimony to the Marijuana Control Board.

The board accepted public testimony for nearly an hour before cutting people off to move forward with the agenda. People came forth to express concerns to the board mainly about public cannabis events and licensing.

Dollynda Phelps of Peace Frog Botanicals in Nikiski said she felt that licensees were experiencing difficulties when it came to AMCO.

“Instead of being treated like farmers and business owners, we’re being treated like criminal drug dealers,” Phelps said at the board meeting. “Licensing should be considered the first line of defense when it comes to diversion and sales to minors. We should be considered allies.”

Phelps and others also told the board it would be helpful if a farmer, or someone with knowledge of agriculture, were a member on the board.

Many others raised concerns about public cannabis events. In August of this year, Alaska Hempfest in Palmer was fined $10,000 for allowing public consumption of marijuana. In May of this year, the first cannabis festival in Alaska, Cannabis Classic in Wasilla, was fined $20,000, with $15,000 suspended pending no future violations. Many members of the public who testified felt that the events were not necessarily public.

“I looked up the definition of public, and it meant all people and not people of a certain group,” Phelps said. “If you’re attending a specific event, I interpret that as a certain group. It is a shame that plenty of beer vendors are permitted to serve at this event, but no cannabis.”

George Pierce of Kasilof told the board he felt the taxes on marijuana products were too high.

“This is a mom and pop operation,” Pierce said. “People have invested their whole life savings in this and you guys are trying to make it worse for them because all you’re doing is strengthening the black market. I could go right around the neighborhood here and get marijuana from the black market. The voters wanted this and we got it, so let’s make it easier.”

Board member Brandon Emmett asked Pierce what the prices on the black market were.

“If an ounce is $500 at the store, I can get it for $200 on the black market,” Pierce said.

Patricia Patterson of High Bush Buds in Soldotna also testified at the board meeting. She told the board about her busy week of sales after the Permanent Fund Dividend came out, and an error she made in her sales report.

“Yesterday I did something that every licensee fears doing,” Patterson said. “I reported an error on myself … it just slipped. I don’t know how. I would love to see this board have an avenue for self-reporting.”

Tim Dillon testified on behalf of the Kenai Peninsula Economic District. He said that while he didn’t personally support the legalization of marijuana, he said it should be supported by KPED and the Marijuana Control Board as legitimate businesses.

“Let’s work together in assisting these businesses instead of throwing up roadblocks,” Dillon said. “I respect what the board is doing and the economic development district is here to assist.”

Board member Emmett asked for a piece of guidance for the board.

“I honestly believe that you all as a board need to continue to take a look at what’s going on from a staff standpoint,” Dillon told the board. “You’ve got some outstanding staff people that need to be able to do their jobs and be able to communicate with the folks that own these businesses. … It doesn’t mean we’re going to agree with everything you say and you’re not going to agree with everything I say.

“But, it’s the idea of communicating and feeling like I was heard. That’s what these people are asking for. That’s what they want and that’s what they deserve.”

The next Marijuana Control Board meeting will be Dec. 20 to 21 in Anchorage.

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