Alaska Marijuana Control Board Chair explains resignation as marijuana shops react to DOJ memo

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Marijuana Control Board Chair Peter Mlynarik, who also serves as Soldotna's police chief, resigned from his position on the regulatory board Thursday.

"Nobody really knows what's going to happen," Mylnarik said in an interview with Channel 2 Friday. "I didn't really feel like there was much legal footing, especially as commercial marijuana is concerned. So that concerned me, and it seemed like a good time to leave."

The move follows the announcement of changes in federal marijuana policy by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who rescinded an Obama Administration policy that helped pave the way for marijuana businesses across the country: "Given the Department's well-established general principles," the Thursday release stated, "previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately."

Mlynarik said the department's decision "removes the underpinning on which the marijuana industry in Alaska is based," according to the Associated Press, and that "the decision does away with the federal government 'looking the other way'" for states that have legalized cannabis.

"It is pretty clear how U.S. Attorney General Sessions feels about marijuana," Mlynarik told Channel 2. "He's not a fan, and he's the boss.

"The states can say they don't want it, but the federal government could still prosecute under federal law, and I don't know if the state can prevent that," he said.

In his resignation letter, also released Friday, Mlynarik wrote that, "At this time, [he does] not see any legal authority for the State to continue with commercial marijuana facilities ... and therefore [he does] not think it is appropriate ... to be involved in the regulation and control of commercial marijuana."

Though Gov. Bill Walker has said he's committed to upholding the will of Alaskan voters - who legalized recreational marijuana use in 2014 and saw pot shops open for business two years later - Mlynarik said his resignation from the board was effective immediately. His seat would've expired in February of 2020.

Still, long-term effects on the industry that generated $1.7 million in tax revenue over the course of fiscal year 2017 remain to be seen.

"It's really hard to predict the future," said Leah Levinton, owner of Enlighten Alaska, a marijuana shop in Spenard. "But I feel it will be a catalyst for change.

"I have confidence the cannabis industry in Alaska will succeed," she said. "We can't operate our business in fear. It's just that we're on alert."

The so-called Cole Memorandum, which Sessions essentially canceled out with the Dept. of Justice announcement Thursday, was meant upon its release to update previous guidance issued to federal prosecutors in regards to marijuana enforcement.

The Cole Memo was issued by the DOJ and then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole, and "[updated] that guidance in light of state ballot initiatives that legalize under state law the possession... of marijuana and provide for the regulation of marijuana production, processing, and sale."

One of five MCB members - two of whom are industry members, and the others are people who represent public safety, rural Alaska and public health - Mlynarik was under fire in 2017 due to what many perceived as a conflict of interest. He had been involved in getting on the ballot a measure that would ban marijuana stores outside of cities in the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

The Marijuana Control Board, a sector of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, was "established as a regulatory and quasi-judicial agency for the control of the cultivation, manufacture and sale of marijuana in the state."



 
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