Alaska communities weigh pot bans 3 years after legalization

JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska marijuana grower Mike Emers has been losing sleep with a vote fast approaching that he says could shutter his family’s business and financially ruin them.

The statewide initiative that legalized recreational marijuana in 2014 allows local governments to ban pot businesses within their borders. And on Tuesday, voters in two of Alaska’s major marijuana-growing areas – including the Fairbanks area, where Emers operates Rosie Creek Farm – will decide whether to do so.

If the proposed bans on marijuana growing, manufacturing, selling and testing are successful, several dozen businesses would be forced to close. And, some in the industry worry, besides creating a bottleneck in the cannabis supply chain, it could embolden other communities to pursue bans or cause state lawmakers to look at whether to roll back legalization.

“I think this is a pivotal moment for the course we’re setting here,” said Cary Carrigan, executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association. Carrigan said he felt good about the work the industry has put in to fight the bans but wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how the votes might go.

Emers, who turned to growing cannabis after financially struggling as an organic fruit and vegetable farmer, understood the risks when he poured his life savings into the business. While the vote is legally allowed, “on a moral basis, it’s disingenuous,” he said.

“To have the rug pulled out from under us once the ball is rolling seems incredibly unfair,” he said.

The opt-out provision for local governments isn’t unique to Alaska, but it’s unusual to see it exercised so long after a legalization vote, said Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel with the national, pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project.

Following Oregon’s 2014 legalization vote, there was a rush by rural communities in the eastern part of that state to enact bans, he said.

In Colorado, at least 69 communities have embraced marijuana…

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