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Regulators make Alaska the first state to approve allowing marijuana use at certain pot shops


JUNEAU, Alaska — The board tasked with writing rules for Alaska's recreational marijuana industry voted Friday to allow for people to use pot at certain stores that will sell it, a first among the four states that have legalized the drug.

The 3-2 vote by the Marijuana Control Board also changed the definition of the term "in public" to allow for consumption at some pot shops, none of which are open yet. Colorado, Washington and Oregon have legalized recreational marijuana but ban its public use, including in pot stores.

"This would put, I think, Alaska in the forefront on this issue," said Chris Lindsey, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project.

On-site consumption was a hot topic during the public comment process in Alaska. Board chairman Bruce Schulte, who offered the amendment, said there appeared to be a public demand for such facilities.

Voters last November passed the state's initiative legalizing recreational pot use by those 21 and older. The initiative banned public consumption but didn't define "public."

Regulators adopted an emergency regulation earlier this year when the law was taking effect that defined "in public" as a place where the public or a substantial group of people have access.

Some initiative supporters thought that definition was too restrictive, saying it would seemingly even bar pot consumption at weddings or office parties.

The board amended the definition to allow for consumption in a designated area at certain licensed pot stores. It had previously said it lacked the legal authority to create a type of license permitting public use.

Cynthia Franklin, the board's director, said she expects another round of regulations detailing exactly what will be allowed at those stores, such as the types of marijuana.

Tim Hinterberger, a sponsor of the Alaska initiative, said allowing retail establishments to be licensed for on-site consumption is a good and necessary step, especially to accommodate tourists. However, he still thinks the definition of public is too broad. Hinterberger said he hadn't read the amendments yet but read about the developments in the news.

In Colorado, where legalization banned pot use in public and in bars, marijuana tourists and activists have complained the limits are too restrictive. People have been ticketed for smoking pot on sidewalks and in public parks. In Washington, use is restricted to a private place and there's been no move by the Legislature to open that up, said Brian Smith, spokesman for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.

Alaska's Marijuana Control Board also voted to scrap a proposed regulation banning marijuana clubs. Schulte said the intent behind that was not to sanction or endorse the clubs. But he said if the board has no authority under the initiative to regulate the clubs — as an attorney for the board stated — it also can't prohibit them.

Harriet Dinegar Milks, an assistant attorney general serving as counsel to the board, and Franklin said such clubs are illegal.

The Alaska regulations, once adopted, will undergo a legal review by Alaska's Department of Law.

It is still illegal to buy marijuana in Alaska because businesses have not yet been licensed to sell it. The board is set to begin accepting business applications in February, with the initial industry licenses expected to be awarded in May.

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