The Anchorage Assembly debated, deliberated, and decided last night that it will be up to voters to say if pot retailers can offer pot smoking rooms in the city limits.
Over a dozen people testified during Tuesday night’s regular Assembly meeting. Those testifying in favor of allowing a public vote on the matter were primarily those representing the cannabis trade.
They argued that people who don’t own their own homes often can’t smoke in their rental units, and so there are two classes of citizens — some who can smoke in their own homes. and some who have no place to smoke but in their cars. They said tourists need places to smoke pot legally. And they argued that people who work in marijuana establishments already are smoking pot, and are accepting the risks associated with their work.
Speaking against sending it to the voters were those concerned with public health and who said the voters already overwhelmingly chose to make Anchorage a smoke-free city.
“As one of the sponsors of the secondhand smoke ordinance, I can’t believe you want to do this again,” said Dick Traini, a former Assembly member who testified against the proposal. “As an asthmatic, I can tell you smoke is smoke, and affects you just the same. The last time we looked at this [Anchorage secondhand smoke ordinance], 70 percent of Anchorage voters said they wanted to keep it,” he said, referring to the Anchorage smoking ban.
Former Assembly member Eric Croft also spoke against the proposal to have a popular vote, saying it’s a step backward in public health, will lead to more driving under the influence. He argued that Anchorage doesn’t have to be “first” in the move toward pot smoking establishments.
American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s Government Relations Director Emily Nenon said the ordinance would create a new class of employees who are not protected from secondhand smoke: “No one should have to choose between their job and their health,” she said.
Although the testimony went heavily against sending the matter to voters, most Assembly members said that pot smoking is different enough from tobacco smoking, and that the public will want a say in the matter.
Voting in favor of sending it to the ballot in April were Assembly members John Weddleton, Meg Zaletel, Forrest Dunbar, Felix Rivera, Pete Petersen, Christopher Constant, and Austin Quinn-Davidson. Against it were Crystal Kennedy, Kameron Perez-Verdia, and Fred Dyson.
The next municipal election ends on April 7, 2020, but because mail-in ballots are the voting method in Anchorage, the election starts a month earlier in March.