Alaska Regulators Propose Allowing Cannabis Cafés

If the lieutenant governor agrees, Alaska will be the first state to explicitly permit marijuana consumption outside the home.


The Bulldog

Last week the Alaska Marijuana Control Board (MCB) voted to allow cannabis consumption in state-licensed pot shops. If approved by Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott (whose duties include filing and publishing state regulations), the MCB's decision will make Alaska the first state with something like Amsterdam-style cannabis cafés—in fact, the first state to explicitly allow marijuana use in settings other than private residences.

Measure 2, the legalization measure that Alaska voters approved last November, says "it is unlawful to consume marijuana in public" and prescribes a $100 fine for that offense. Although the initiative does not define public, the state argued that the term covers any business open to the public, including clubs where people pay a membership fee to consume their own marijuana in a social setting. Last August the MCB proposed regulations that explicitly banned cannabis clubs, a move that drew strong objections from people who thought consumption should not be legally confined to people's homes—a situation that is especially inconvenient for visitors from other states. The board argues that Measure 2 does not authorize it to license clubs for consumption but does give it the leeway to allow consumption in retail outlets, which it plans to exclude from the definition of public.

Reformers have long argued that treating marijuana like alcohol means allowing something like taverns for cannabis. But fear and embarrassment have kept Colorado and Washington not only from allowing on-site consumption in marijuana stores but from making any provision at all for cannabis consumers who either do not have a private residence (such as tourists) or would like to use marijuana somewhere else from time to time. Activists in Denver, where Colorado's marijuana stores are concentrated, are trying to negotiate a solution with city officials, who so far have proven less tolerant than their counterparts in Colorado Springs, which allows cannabis clubs while banning recreational sales. Proposed marijuana inititiatives in California and Massachusetts would allow on-site consumption in pot stores.