TAKES COMPLAINT TO OMBUDSMAN
Dave Lanning co-owns a small cannabis manufacturing business in Fairbanks. Among the product lines at Arctic Bakery are dark chocolates infused with cannabis.
Lanning wants to branch out. In addition to plain dark chocolate, for which he has a permit from the Alaska Marijuana Control Office, he wants to sell orange-flavored and raspberry flavored cannabis chocolates.
He sent his application in to the AMCO two days before the Oct. 25 deadline so his product could be considered during this week’s board meeting, which started Wednesday.
The small-business owner was surprised, then, to find his application had not been included on the agenda. “Why?” he asked the staff. Because they didn’t have time to get to it, he was told.
His application to allow him to add a drop of orange flavoring to a piece of chocolate would not be heard until 2020.
That means that even though Lanning complied with a state deadline, he’ll miss the Christmas holidays for his confections. It’s not catastrophic, he said, but it’s also not an insignificant financial setback to have to delay this product until next year.
“I was stunned to pick up the agenda and see that only two of the 32 applications were on it,” he said.
Lanning took his complaint to the board on Wednesday, only to be told by Board Chairman Mark Springer that Lanning should have gotten his application in “earlier.”
Lanning has no idea what defines “earlier.” Two weeks? A month before the deadline? Why even have a deadline? he wondered.
The staff is working hard, Springer said, defending the executive director (who was fired later in the meeting).
Lanning was unsatisfied with that answer and filed a 45-page complaint with the State Ombudsman documenting his application and communications between himself and AMCO staff.
From the perspective of a business owner, if there’s a published deadline, the regulated industry has the right to expect the agency to do its job, he said.
Must Read Alaska has learned that there are multiple positions at AMCO that are funded but unfilled under the leadership of the former executive director Erika McConnell. Additionally, the office is supposed to be funded through fees and taxes on industry — an industry that can’t get permits in a timely way.
Lanning’s story was one of several brought up this week to describe the disappointment that the marijuana industry has with the AMCO level of service to the fledgling industry. Business owners also fear retaliation, especially from the previous director, who was described to Must Read Alaska by some as vindictive.
McConnell was replaced with Glen Klinkhart on Thursday.
Lacy Wilcox, the president of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, spoke to the board this week about the rapidly growing industry and its need for an effective and responsive regulatory agency.
“We perhaps more than anything, hope for recognition that the industry is comprised of hard-working Alaskans, with few exceptions, who perhaps more then any other sector are ‘all-in’ and stand ready to work with regulators to create a sustainable and fair business environment. In that vein, those dedicated entrepreneurs are asking for respect and courtesy from our regulators and wish that the days of being treated like a criminal can finally end,” she said.
The association published a statement on Thursday acknowledging the right of the Marijuana Control Board to change the leadership at the
Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, but called out Chairman Springer and Vice Chair Loren Jones for claiming the industry seeks less regulation.
“We have in fact never asked for that. We seek consultation. Industry professionals are experts on how the cannabis plant is grown, processed, sold, and consumed. We have submitted public comment on several occasions asking AMCO to conduct meaningful consultation with the industry. Blatant disregard for industry input will only result in regulations and guidelines that hinder commerce and fail to protect public health and safety.”
Wilcox has asked the board to help improve communication to licensees — more transparency with board meetings, timely meeting minutes, audio archives, guidance documents, efficient teleconference providers, clearly written AMCO advisories, and an archive of regulatory bulletins.
“When communication is lacking, and when guidance isn’t easily available, mistakes happen. When mistakes happen, a trusting industry to regulator relationship could benefit from self-reporting. This has proven to be a bad idea for licensees fearful of heavy-handed enforcement. We ask that reasonable judgement be used to guide and assist business into compliance rather then push licensees back under the rock they invested their livelihoods to come out from under. We look forward to a future when this industry is treated as it should be, as a vibrant new player in the fabric of Alaska’s economy,” she said.
As for Lanning’s complaint to the Ombudsman, he had three main points:
- The AMCO agency fails to honor published deadlines and perhaps fails to understand the common definition of a deadline.
- This is typical of the way AMCO has been operating, and demonstrates bad faith and a habitual disregard for published notices.
- AMCO staff knows it has an effect on the family businesses they regulate, but their actions demonstrate an uncaring attitude.