Alaska House amends, re-passes bill to create new marijuana control board

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JUNEAU, Alaska — The Alaska House reconsidered legislation it passed to create a new marijuana control board, tweaking it on the floor Wednesday.

The new version of House Bill 123, which heads to the Senate, would prevent someone who received a felony conviction within the last five years from getting a license for a marijuana business.

The bill initially passed Tuesday, but it was voted on Wednesday under reconsideration. At that time, it was amended.

The bill, from Gov. Bill Walker, would create a five-member board that would share staff and resources with the state alcohol board.

When voters approved limited recreational marijuana use in November, they directed either the alcohol board or a new marijuana board to develop regulations for marijuana businesses, including sales and commercial cultivation. Those regulations are due in November, with the first licenses expected to be handed out in May 2016.

Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Executive Director Cynthia Franklin said such a bill is the most important for lawmakers to pass, because it includes $1.5 million to pay for the rule-making process. So far, her agency has hired two staff members to work on marijuana issues, as well as a contract attorney. Eventually, license fees and marijuana taxes will pay for regulatory efforts, Franklin said.

"There's a startup cost, essentially, to these regulations," she said in an interview.

As proposed, the board would include one representative each from the public health and safety sectors; one or two representatives of the legal marijuana industry or those with academic or advocacy perspectives on marijuana; a rural Alaska representative; and a member of the public if there is just one industry representative.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration, which is also working on another marijuana bill from the House.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing Wednesday on House Bill 75, which primarily addresses how municipalities and other communities regulate marijuana.

"If 75 and 123 pass, we'd be in great shape," Franklin said Wednesday.

The bill also sets a household limit of 24 marijuana plants for a household of four or more people, and clarifies the definition of assisting. Franklin said those provisions would help with regulatory efforts by making it clear that personal-use allowances are not meant to be exploited for commercial operations.

Sen. John Coghill, vice-chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that bill would likely come back before the panel on Friday.

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