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4/15/15 - State House passes bill on regulation of marijuana

Bill would give Alcoholic Beverages Control Board oversight of marijuana

By Zacharia Hughes, APRN

A bill that is fundamental to setting up legal regulations for Alaska's marijuana passed the House Tuesday [April 14, 2015]. The bipartisan vote is a step towards the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board establishing a permit structure that oversees a full legal market, from growers to commercial sales.

Barrow Democrat Ben Nageak got laughs when he spoke during the House floor session. He said there are some basic reasons marijuana needs its own regulatory board.

“I mean jeeze, everytime I see high people I go over there because I want to laugh,” said Nageak. “ And I think we need to have a separate board to have, ya know, happy versus versus unhappy people.” Laugh fade down.

House Bill 123 sets up a body within the ABC Board to start doing exactly what voters opted for on Ballot Measure 2: regulating marijuana like alcohol. The state has until November 24th to set up a regulatory structure for all the pieces of a legal marijuana market that don’t exist yet, from permits to grow to packaging and sales. Republican Liz Vazquez of Anchorage says it’s too much work for the board to handle as is.

 “The staff of the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board is simply overwhelmed by the work they have right now to throw in the mix matters dealing with marijuana and so forth,” said Vaquez. “ I don’t think it’s doable, I don’t think we’re appropriating enough resources to this issue.”

One of the biggest issues during the floor session was the fiscal note.

Some house members say that at just under 1.6 million dollars [$1.574,400] the state can’t afford to pay for the 4 new staff positions it would create in the ABC Board. While the Marijuana Board would be made up of 5 volunteers coming from different backgrounds, the staff working on their behalf would be full-time state employees. But ABC Board director Cynthia Franklin says the money makes all the difference.

 “We need the money to not only get the people in place to take on this additional substance,” said Franklin, “but to get the technology in place to be able to answer reporters and legislators’ questions about what’s happening in marijuana, who’s applying for licenses, how we’re approaching the subject, and more importantly assuring the people of Alaska that any marijuana they buy in a retail establishment has been legally grown and can be traced from the time it was born until the time it’s been sold in the store.”

Lawmakers made a number of arguments against the bill. Some worried that it would allow felons to work in the new industry. Others raised concerns about the composition of the board, and what counts as a qualification when it comes to “industry experience.” Anchorage Republican Gabrielle LeDoux says such narrow definitions of expertise are unnecessary.

 “You don’t have to be a cannibal to know something about cannibalism,” said LeDoux.” You want people to know something about marijuana who are regulating it.”

HB 123 passed 25 to 15, and now goes before the senate for consideration.

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National law firm with offices in Anchorage sets up $3.5 million fund for Indian health

A law firm specializing in Indian law is donating 3.5 million dollars to improve medical care for tribal members. The law firm Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Miller and Munson is helping fund construction of Native health facilities and medical equipment. Attorney Lloyd Miller, a partner in the firm, says the fund recognizes the firm’s 40-year anniversary:

“We wanted to give back to Indian Country,” said Miller. “And since so much of our work involves health care issues, we wanted to focus our charitable contribution program on improving health care facilities, either entire clinics or acquisition of critical equipment such as cat scans, MRI machines and the like.”

Four-hundred-fifty thousand dollars each is going to the statewide Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium for patient housing, and to the Anchorage-based Southcentral Foundation for construction of a behavioral health clinic. Two-hundred thousand dollars each is going to the Choctaw, Cherokee, and Chickasaw nations:

“For the most part we're working with tribes we know very well,” said Miller, “tribes we've had a relationship with since the firms founding, in the case of some of the tribes we've worked with for 40 years.”

Miller says the grants are designed to help tribes bring in other donations:

“These are matching grant because we want to encourage others in the private sector, they could be lawyers, of course, but anybody else that works with Indian tribes, helps Indian tribes achieve great self-governance and self-determination in the area of health,” said Miller, “we encourage them to come up with matching funds so that the tribes can do more for their people.

Miller says in the coming year, the firm will be working on grants to other tribes in Oklahoma, and in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana.