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Unalaska Officials To Hash Out Rules For Commercial Marijuana Sales

Greta Mart

Tuesday the Unalaska City Council tackles its first public work session on commercial marijuana sales in Dutch Harbor and Unalaska.

While no action will be taken at this meeting, it will be a chance for the community  to hear what their representatives think about whether commercial marijuana should be allowed on the island. Two council members have voiced their interest in banning retail stores.

The "local control" section of the law that legalized marijuana for adult recreational use gives power to local governments to prohibit any or all stages of commercial production. A voter initiative could also establish a ban.

Earlier this month, Unalaska city staff hosted a public forum designed to provide information on state law and solicit feedback from the community. Officials said they will look to that public feedback when deciding whether to enact any restrictions on retail pot sales. 

At the public forum, some attendees voiced frustration at the structure of the event. They said they were hoping for more of a group discussion.

"I wanted to hear what the public had to say, and it didn't really seem that we get to hear what everybody else thinks. So, kind of disappointed about it but hopefully we can rally some community members up soon to hear both sides or all sides and sides we don't even know exist," said resident Disney Williams.

"I came here because I wanted to hear what the community had to say about it. I'm disappointed that we're actually not hearing from other community members, so I'll probably end up posting my information online. It's really intimidating to be talking about these issues with the chief of police and these other people," said resident Andrea Magone.

Tuesday morning the city manager's office released the results of those surveys submitted at the public forum and via online. For each of the four questions asked, public opinion was roughly evenly split between those for and against allowing commercial production and sales.

There are four key components involved in getting the finished product to a customer - growing, manufacturing, testing and selling.  The city's attorney told the Council in late October that the testing requirement makes growing cannabis on a commercial scale in Unalaska a pricey proposition. That's because it's expensive to build a testing facility that would satisfy the state's requirements.

At the public forum, Deputy Police Chief Mike Holman said it would be possible to grow, test and manufacture cannabis products near Anchorage and then sell them here.

"But it has to get here, that is the difficulty. And it has to be tracked because there is a whole system of tracking that the state has proposed. That goes all the way from the seed to when it grows up to the harvest to the testing facility, and then to the store or the manufacturing company and then back to the store again,"  Holman said. 

86-year-old Unalaska resident Shirley Buchet said she wants to be able to buy safe, tested marijuana on the island.

"I myself am a marijuana user for my desire to eat more. I need to eat.  I only weigh 84 pounds and I need to eat. And then I have a lot of pain. It helps with my pain and it helps with my eating, and I don't care what the rest of you do, but I intend to take marijuana as long as I can get it," Buchet said.

KUCB asked Buchet if she wanted the Unalaska City Council to allow commercial sales.

"Please. Please," Buchet said. "There is no reason we can't have it."

Tuesday's city council meeting starts at 6 p.m. at City Hall. The commercial marijuana work session is expected to start around 6:30 p.m. 

Greta Mart worked for KUCB in 2015 and 2016.