Onsite marijuana smoking could conflict with smoke-free ordinance

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Those closely following the Anchorage Assembly's work to legalize onsite consumption of edible marijuana at licensed retailers in the municipality are concerned for the future of clean air in the city.

They say that's because the same ordinance that would legalize onsite consumption of edibles also contains language outlining a path for legalization of onsite smoking of marijuana.

Since 2006, the City of Anchorage has had a smoking ban in place prohibiting smoking in all public spaces. That's why the executive director of the American Lung Association in Alaska, Marge Stoneking, has vowed publicly to fight the assembly on any legislation allowing onsite smoking.

“I don’t think the assembly ever had any intention of stopping with just edibles,” Stoneking told Channel 2 Monday. "It was no surprise to us … to see the ordinance regarding onsite consumption that included all of the regulation for onsite inhalation, as well as edible.”

Anchorage Assembly member Christopher Constant says the assembly has been transparent in its intentions to this effect -- following the public process, which Stoneking has been constantly involved in.

“That conversation is happening," he said. "And in this ordinance, there is a section reserved (for onsite inhalation). It's all part of the public process."

Constant acknowledged that the path to onsite smoking would have to find a way over, through, or around the existing prohibition on smoking in public spaces.

"I believe that any path forward will have to either find a carve-out within the rules, or find an allowance that isn't restricted by the smoking ban," he said. "The public process will be in such a way that it is every time: If we pass an ordinance, the voters will have a chance to repeal it."

On May 9, 2019, Lieutenant Gov. Kevin Meyer signed into law regulation changes made by the state Marijuana Control Board including an onsite consumption endorsement for retail marijuana stores.

There are multiple disclaimers in this legislation -- namely, onsite consumption has to be legal under local law, and onsite establishments must maintain a "marijuana consumption area separated from the remainder of the premises, either by a secure door and having a separate ventilation system..."

For Stoneking, the rub lies in the alleged inability of modern ventilation systems to actually filter out the harmful particulates of secondhand smoke.

“You can’t ventilate, or separate, or filtrate out the fine particles in secondhand smoke -- in secondhand marijuana smoke,” Stoneking said. “You can’t remove the fine particulates in toxins that are in secondhand smoke.”

According to a comprehensive report by the U.S. Surgeon General listed on the Center for Disease Control website, “Eliminating smoking in indoor spaces fully protects nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke. Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposures of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke.”

The Anchorage Assembly's legislation providing a potential path to onsite smoking for retail marijuana stores includes language similar to that outlined by the Marijuana Control Board:

"The consumption area shall be isolated from the other areas of the retail marijuana store, separated by walls and a secure door, and shall have access only from the retail marijuana store," it reads.

"If consumption by inhalation or smoking is to be permitted, a ventilation system that directs air from the marijuana consumption area to the outside of the building through a filtration system sufficient to remove visible smoke, consistent with all applicable building codes and ordinances, and adequate to eliminate odor at the property line.”

Marijuana is becoming more widely accepted across the United States. According to DISA Global Solutions, as recently as this month 11 states have fully legalized marijuana, including the District of Columbia.

Channel 2 asked Marge Stoneking -- who has advocated against harmful effects of smoking for the American Lung Association for 16 years -- how long she could continue the fight in the face of marijuana's growing social acceptance and legalization. After a short pause, she replied "That's a good question. I don't know."

On April 22, 2019, the Fairbanks City Council passed a resolution, with restrictions, allowing onsite consumption in accordance with state law. Before that, Fairbanks General Code prohibited onsite consumption, even if authorized by the state.

The Anchorage Assembly still hasn’t passed the ordinance that would allow onsite consumption of edible marijuana. Members are scheduled to potentially vote on June 18.

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