- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Marijuana advocates said Thursday that all communities, including villages, should be able to prohibit a local marijuana industry.

Voters approved a ballot issue legalizing possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults 21 years and older. That goes into effect Feb. 24. It also directed the state to write regulations for a commercial marijuana industry.

The initiative specifies that local governments can prohibit marijuana sales and production.

Cynthia Franklin, the executive director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, told the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee Thursday that the initiative’s language would not allow established villages to ban sales and production, unless the Legislature acts to include them in the definition of local governments that can opt-out.

Initiative sponsor Tim Hinterberger said he supported a change allowing villages to prohibit the industry, and that such a change would be aligned with voter intent in the initiative.

Hinterberger, from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, said the initiative had not meant to exclude any communities from opting out.

Lawrence Blood from the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development said that the community opt-out allowances for alcohol allow a community to do so within five miles of the post office or other central facility.

Blood said defining a community can be challenging, but that the definition for the size of community allowed to opt-out of alcohol sales or otherwise limit them is a group of 25 or more people living in a social unit. Aside from prohibiting marijuana businesses, Blood noted that unincorporated communities would not have the power to develop other related regulations, such as taxes, but that the Legislature could do so for them acting as the Unorganized Borough.

Franklin also talked about the licensing options that may be available to communities.

The state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is responsible for writing the rules for a marijuana industry, unless the Legislature creates a separate marijuana board. Franklin has said that a separate board sharing staff with the ABC board is the preference of the governor.

Franklin said the ABC board was meeting Thursday to discuss marijuana, and that she believed the board would develop a general outline of possible licensing structures after it met.

Franklin said she believed the board would say it is considering a menu of local options, similar to the choices that communities have in regulating alcohol businesses. Communities may wind up with the ability to choose which types of licenses to allow, Franklin said.

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