ECON 919 - The path to Soldotna's first cannabis shop
The city of Soldotna has wrestled with how to handle the new industry in city limits since voters statewide approved commercial and recreational uses back in 2014.
A series of moratoriums were put in place the last few years as the city’s administration figured out the best ways to integrate new businesses into city code, and as the council’s collective view on the topic has shifted a bit. Council member Tim Cashman has consistently voiced concerns about selling pot in city limits, going back to his support of the first moratorium back in 2017.
“I look at a couple of vacant buildings in town and I drive by and I think I would hate to see a sign that said ‘get high at the Y’. It’s a personal opinion. I know the town is pretty split on it. We have enough issues and things going on in town here. At the same time, we’re trying to fund teen centers and boys and girls clubs and alcohol and everything else that’s going on in the world, I think if people really need to get marijuana, we’re not going to stop them from doing it," Cashman said two years ago.
Over the years, it’s taken a couple of tie-breaking votes by current mayor Dr. Nels Anderson and his predecessor, Pete Sprague, to inch the industry forward inside city limits. By the beginning of 2018, the city had begun updating its code to accommodate the new businesses. Now, the first such business is getting close to opening inside the city.
Pine Street Cannabis, which already operates a cultivation and retail location a couple miles outside town toward Sterling, began the application process late last year, which, as city manager Stephanie Queen explained, includes stops at a number of different city departments for review.
“That includes our finance department, police department, zoning, building and all the administrative departments then ensure that there’s no cause for the city to protest the license or attach a condition to the license.”
The final step for getting a license from the city was this week, when the council took up a resolution to send a letter of non-objection to the state marijuana control board. But the council still had some questions, mostly related to how noticeable the retail space on Warehouse drive will be.
"Is there anything in current zoning as far as odor," Cashman asked. "Are there odor issues or is that a non-issue? Or if it becomes an issue, do we have a method of dealing with it?”
Pine Street owner Chad Ebenezer told the council that, as a matter of state law, retail establishments are required to mitigate odors outside the store and that he’s ready to work with the city if there are any issues.
Another concern was with the store’s proximity to a new Freedom House location. That’s a transitional housing program for men recovering from substance abuse. Queen explained that the buffers around cannabis stores required by the state are enforced on a first come, first serve basis. Ordinarily, 500 feet is supposed to separate the cannabis operation from schools, churches and places like Freedom House, among others.
“The Freedom House group was looking at securing a property which is within approximately 350 feet of this facility. The state statutes are clear that when a marijuana (business) is established first, it can continue...Because the timing of this was close, we consulted with our attorney and they had no concerns that this was an established use prior to establishment of the Freedom House.”
And so, despite a couple years of handwringing and wondering how or if the city of Soldotna would be open to cannabis businesses, the council voted unanimously to adopt the resolution, sending Pine Street’s application on to the state for final approval.
This week’s number: 60
That’s how many days, roughly, the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation and its new slash old partners, BP and ExxonMobil are spending reviewing the project. A memorandum of understanding was signed by all parties last month and a review of technical and commercial issues is underway. It’s part of a return to a state-gate process, where, at certain critical points in development of the project, an opportunity is taken by all parties to make sure they still want in. Such a point was reached at the end of 2016 when those same oil companies, plus ConocoPhillips backed away from the AK LNG project and handed control over to the state. The sixty-day review is expected to be finished at the end of April, when it will be determined if the project has an economic case to make to move ahead.