Is Anchorage ready to join the State of Alaska in legalizing on-site marijuana consumption?

A marijuana plant at the Great Northern Cannabis cultivation facility. (KTUU)
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - On April 11, 2019, Alaska became the first state to legalize on-site consumption of marijuana. City and industry officials are now weighing-in on whether Anchorage is ready to follow suit.

[Original story: Proposed on-site marijuana ordinance 'could go either way']

Channel 2 spoke with the vice president of Great Northern Cannabis, Jordan Huss, and Anchorage Assembly member Christopher Constant on Friday. They both agreed that traffic safety should be a top focus of legislation regulating on-site consumption.

Constant said standardized measurements to arrest marijuana-impaired drivers are not fully developed -- there is no "marijuana breathalyzer". This is a big concern associated with legalizing on-site consumption, according to Constant.

"Our police officers are highly trained in identifying intoxicated drivers," Constant said. "It's the testing that happens after -- it's coming up with evidence -- that's the challenge that has been bringing some concern."

Huss says Great Northern Cannabis has an ongoing dialogue with law enforcement. They're both proceeding with caution when it comes to legalizing on-site consumption.

"I think, by and large, law enforcement officers are supportive and receptive of the industry," Huss said. "However, they share the same public safety concerns that we all do with driving under the influence."

The body absorbs tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of marijuana, differently than it does alcohol, according to a 2017 report to Congress on marijuana-impaired driving presented by the US Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Highest levels of THC are usually found when impairment is low, and vice versa.

The NHTSA report did not find any reliable chemical tests to use as evidence of marijuana-impaired driving at the time of arrest or crash, or differentiate the cause of impairment between alcohol and marijuana.

But if you were thinking you could hop behind the wheel with a marijuana buzz and get off scot-free, think again. The report referenced multiple studies showing consuming marijuana does impact driving-related skills, i.e. slower reaction time, divided attention, decreased decision-making ability and more.

Furthermore, Alaska law says that if you drive under the influence of marijuana, you could be arrested and charged with a DUI -- a first-time offense carrying a $1,500 penalty and 72 hours mandatory imprisonment.

The effects of marijuana can take longer to develop and last longer when eating or consuming marijuana as opposed to smoking it -- a fact further complicating the ability of law enforcement to arrest marijuana-impaired drivers.

The Anchorage Assembly still has not legalized on-site consumption of edible marijuana products at licensed retail stores or subsequent land-use regulations. Members have not introduced formal legislation to allow for on-site inhalation.

The assembly introduced on-site consumption on May 7. It will continue discussion at its next regular meeting Tuesday, June 18. Ordinances will be open for public testimony, and members will have the options to vote for or against, or to further delay the legislation.

Anchorage now lags behind the City of Fairbanks, which on April 22 legalized on-site consumption only if it's "authorized by Alaska state law and regulated by the Marijuana Control Office."

Huss says the marijuana industry will likely wait for the assembly's final vote before making what he says is a large investment in retail compliance with proposed on-site consumption regulations.

Officials with the Department of Public Safety did not respond to comment on this article.

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