Here is a sampling of Alaska editorials:
Dec. 20, 2017
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Critical moment for cannabis industry
Fairbanks City Councilman David Pruhs has pointed out on multiple occasions some bar owners run excellent establishments that contribute to this community, while other bar owners put their clients at risk on a regular basis. Councilman Pruhs also predicted Fairbanks eventually would see the same dichotomy within Alaska’s budding marijuana industry.
Last week, the Alaska Marijuana Control Board cracked down on a local company for nine violations. Frozen Budz — one of Alaska’s largest cannabis edibles manufacturers — was slapped with a $500,000 fine and its license was revoked. Accusations against Frozen Budz include moldy marijuana, failure to test their products, allowing on-site consumption, improper labeling and violating waste notification requirements. The owners deny on-site consumption occurred. To be clear, Frozen Budz also has a retail store on Van Horn Road, which is still open.
Alaska Marijuana Control Board Chairman Peter Mlynarik stated the cannabis edible manufacturer “put the public at significant risk by selling products that were not safe, tested or tracked.”
What can we take away from this?
First, Alaskans can take comfort that regulation will be enforced. There was fear among some in the anti-pot camp — heading into October’s election, which contained a local referendum to shut down the legal marijuana industry — that regulation would not be enforced because of heavy influence from Marijuana Conrtrol Board members who are part of the cannabis industry. It appears that will not have an effect on the board.
For the industry, this is a critical moment. The example has been set and the penalties are no small potatoes. Owners of cannabis businesses can play by the rules or find themselves watching from the sidelines. When customers purchase marijuana they should be able to trust they are getting exactly what the label says they are buying.
The cannabis industry had a decisive victory in the October election, but it remains under a microscope. Pot is still illegal at the federal level, and many in the Interior oppose it. Some are waiting and hoping the cannabis industry fails.
However, there are members of the cannabis industry who are business professionals. They are working hard to disprove stereotypes about “the lazy stoner on the couch.” If the cannabis industry wants to be accepted and be treated as any other industry, it needs to prove it cares about its customers by following the regulations designed to protect these customers.
Dec. 17, 2017
Peninsula Clarion: Governor’s budget provides lots to chew on
Gov. Bill Walker released his administration’s budget proposal for the state’s fiscal year starting July 1, 2018, and there is certainly a lot for the Legislature to chew on when it convenes in January.
Gov. Walker’s plan includes a number of items that have received mixed reviews in recent legislative sessions, including a refined version of his payroll tax, bonds to pay oil and gas tax credits owed to producers and explorers, and use of Alaska Permanent Fund earnings to pay for state services. The proposal also includes measures to address the state budget biennially rather than annually, and to penalize lawmakers if they don’t pass a budget by the 90th day of the session.
While that last idea may sound good — particularly to voters in an election year — we see it more as posturing rather than sound public policy. We’re as frustrated as anyone by the Legislature spending so much time in extended and special sessions, but such a measure has the potential to cause more harm than good when it comes to passing well vetted legislation, or to be used as a wedge in budget negotiations.
The most significant piece of the budget continues to be the use of Permanent Fund earnings to pay for state services. Both the Senate and House passed versions of a plan to do so in the past year but could not find a compromise that would put the measure into law. Gov. Walker’s proposal would allocate about $1.9 billion for state spending and provide for a dividend of $1,216 per person.
We feel like a broken record on this subject. During last year’s regular session, Sen. Peter Micciche, a Republican from Soldotna, said he would call the session a success if such a plan were to pass. Rep. Chris Tuck, the House Majority Leader and an Anchorage Democrat, responded that use of Permanent Fund earnings would be the “easy route” in addressing the state’s multi-billion dollar deficit.
At the time, we asked if passing a plan to use Permanent Fund earnings was easy, why hadn’t it been done?
Almost a year — and an extended regular session and four special sessions — later, the question still stands.
The answer lies, at least partly, in Gov. Walker’s proposed 1.5 percent payroll tax. During the last regular session, the House majority insisted any plan to use Permanent Fund earnings be linked to an income tax — something the Senate majority refused. Gov. Walker proposed a “head tax” on wages to be considered during this past fall’s special session, which lawmakers, particularly in the Senate majority, declined to take up.
The administration’s newest proposal for a broad-based tax is proposed to help pay for deferred maintenance and community infrastructure projects. In drafting this version, Gov. Walker said the administration listened to concerns that implementing a new tax would grow government and be in place indefinitely; the new proposal would end after three years.
If lawmakers who favor implementing a broad-based tax continue to insist that it be tied to their support for using Permanent Fund earnings, we expect the gridlock over addressing the state’s budget deficit will continue. The effects of that gridlock are taking a toll — as we mentioned, part of Gov. Walker’s budget includes borrowing money to pay oil tax credits to companies that scaled back operations when those payments were deferred.
If lawmakers truly want to break the gridlock, they will address a plan to use Permanent Fund earnings first — without tying it to other revenue measures.
If not, expect to see a session that, once again, drags into June and beyond — whether lawmakers are being penalized for it or not.
Dec. 17, 2017
Juneau Empire: Don’t dampen Alaska’s innovation
Imagine you’re starting a business in a new field. For years, you work to hone your product. You confer with other businesses and entrepreneurs. You invest time and money into making your dream a reality. You work with legislators to ensure your business plan is in keeping with the law. Finally, you open — and you’re doing well.
Then you get a letter from the board that regulates your business. They say that in spite of what the lawmakers who crafted the legislation in question say themselves, your business may not be functioning legally. All your years of work are threatened.
That is what has happened to Alaska’s nine distilleries. Here in Juneau, that’s Amalga Distillery, which opened in April of this year.
The Alcohol and Beverage Control Board has in the past several months been seeking to clarify rules about how distilleries can serve their “product,” as the law calls it. At issue is whether or not distilleries are allowed to make and serve cocktails in their tasting rooms. When, three years ago, state legislators wrote the law the ABC board is interpreting, they’ve explicitly said they never meant to disallow cocktails.
“We can assure you there has been no misinterpretation of the statute by the distillers and they are acting in accordance with the Legislature’s intentions,” eight state senators and representatives who sponsored the bill wrote the ABC board on Aug. 15 of this year, three days after distillers were first told to stop serving mixed drinks. (Alaska’s distilleries are currently serving cocktails as the latest iteration of this saga plays out.) “Considering that many of the products sold by the distillers are intended to be mixed with other ingredients before consumption, it was assumed any sales or free samples would likely be mixed with other ingredients as well. We would also draw your attention to the well-publicized celebration ceremony of the new statute, when samples of mixed drinks using Alaska’s craft spirits were provided without question.”
The problem, says Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office Director Erika McConnell, is that ABC board members aren’t allowed to interpret the law through legislators’ intentions: they must consider only the law, which states that distilleries are allowed to serve three ounces of their product to a tasting room customer in a day. Cocktails weren’t explicitly mentioned, even by distillery owners in their letters of support for the law. That, she says, means they must serve their alcohol straight.
The ABC board’s review of the law was spurred by an anonymous complaint from a bar owner in Juneau. Some bar owners have concerns about distilleries being competition. We understand that. After all, liquor licenses are expensive. The going rate in the capital city, because of the limited number of liquor licenses the state makes available and the high demand for them, is around a quarter of a million dollars. That’s not a cheap business investment.
But a still isn’t cheap, either. Nor are years of honing recipes for your locally made products. Nor is remodeling a former office space to create a distillery and tasting room that was in line with every understood interpretation of state law, and legislators’ stated intent when they wrote it.
What’s more, distilleries differ from bars in key ways. Tasting room customers are allowed to consume no more than three ounces of the alcoholic product per day (if you’re drinking the product in a cocktail, it’s usually two drinks). There are no chairs allowed at a distillery bar. There is no entertainment allowed, though the board has stalled on clarifying what exactly comprises “entertainment.” And distilleries, by state law, must stop serving alcohol at 8 p.m. That’s pretty different from every bar we’ve ever heard of.
One of the changes the board is currently considering — that distilleries be forced to serve mixers in a separate glass — is a ludicrous example of form over function. The only difference between an employee and a customer mixing a drink is that the employee would likely do it better — and that businesses like Amalga Distillery have already invested money and resources in perfecting their pre-mixed gin and tonic, not to mention years of work in crafting recipes that best showcase their products. If it’s legal for distillery employees to serve a customer a glass of cucumber water, one of Amalga Distillery’s current mixers, there is no logical reason it should be illegal for them to serve it mixed with their legal gin.
McConnell has written that “. If the legislative intent was truly different (from preventing distilleries from serving cocktails) the legislature will need to amend statute to provide clarifying language.”
Even if the already-burdened Alaska legislature found time and sufficient momentum to take up the issue next session, what are distilleries supposed to do in the meantime? Changing an interpretation of a law that has existed for several years — an interpretation on which people have staked a significant part of their livelihoods — amounts to yanking a state-woven rug out from under a business owner’s feet. It is capricious, discourages innovation and is damaging to Alaska’s entrepreneurs.
The ABC Board is accepting comments about its proposed regulation changes for distilleries through Dec. 29 at 4:30 p.m. We encourage you to write the board and to make your voice heard.