AK: Marijuana Social Club Enforcement Like A ‘Hot Potato,’ Authorities Say


The continued operation of marijuana social clubs, which exist in spite of the state’s stance they are illegal, and noncompliant shops selling marijuana, are vexing enforcement officers with the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, an officer told the Marijuana Control Board on Wednesday.

Local law enforcement doesn’t want to touch unlicensed establishments, James Hoelscher, enforcement supervisor with the Control Office, told the board members.

“It just seems like it’s not something they want to deal with at this time,” Hoelscher said.

Hoelscher said Wednesday morning that his office had received the bulk of the reports regarding illegal activity, from the Kenai Peninsula to Fairbanks and Juneau.

There have also been reports of shops illegally selling marijuana across the state, and of people trimming marijuana buds outside storefronts.

“It’s becoming, in some cases, so blatant,” Hoelscher said.

Attorney Jana Weltzin told the board she had seen illegal sales taking place from a small shop with a green cross on the front.

Marijuana social clubs popped up in the aftermath of Alaska’s measure to legalize recreational marijuana. People pay a membership fee and receive access to the space to smoke marijuana they’ve brought with them, though free samples are sometimes provided. Events are often held at the venues.

On Aug. 31, Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth issued a legal opinion that said the clubs are illegal. They fall under the definition of a public place, and since public consumption is illegal, so are the clubs, Lindemuth wrote. Giving away free samples could be considered selling marijuana, her opinion said.

Local law enforcement would work with the Control Office on taking action against the clubs, both the Department of Law and the Department of Commerce and Economic Development said.

But the issue has become “kind of like hot potato,” Hoeslcher said.

“Without the local law enforcement’s support on this it feels like we’re just spinning tires,” Hoelscher said, adding that his own department is stretched thin.

In Anchorage, Pot Luck Events has remained open for 18 months and has faced no enforcement measures. The club has repeatedly disputed the state’s stance that it is illegal.

After the passage of Senate Bill 91, nearly all marijuana crimes became misdemeanors. For prosecutors, “they’re just not appealing cases,” said Cynthia Franklin, Control Office executive director.

The clubs make the newly legalized industry vulnerable, Franklin said.

She said she had asked that marijuana be descheduled in Alaska, and crimes related to selling without a license be added to the state’s marijuana regulations, as in alcohol.

“At some point, we’re going to reach a crisis tipping point,” Franklin said.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Marijuana Social Club Enforcement Like A ‘Hot Potato,’ Authorities Say
Author: Laurel Andrews
Contact: 907-257-4200
Photo Credit: Laurel Andrews
Website: Alaska Dispatch News