Do state deadlines matter? Cannabis chocolatier wants to know if regulator cares - Must Read Alaska
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Saturday, December 7, 2019
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Do state deadlines matter? Cannabis chocolatier wants to know if regulator cares

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).

[Read: Marijuana board votes out agency director]

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.

[Read: Marijuana agency hits restart button with new chief: Glen ‘Fix It’ Klinkhart]

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.
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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • It’s an industry of death.

  • AMCO and the Board should look at precedents in states like Colorado to see their path forward in AK.
    Our industry is new and many concerns like pesticides and contaminants in commercial product have already been dealt with in the lower 48.
    Alaska does not have to reinvent the process but AMCO must start to look at the industry as a friend and not an adversary.
    Looking at revenues around the country there is quite a bit of profit to be made (and taxes to be paid into the state).
    This industry provides much needed jobs in the rural economies and regulates the consumption of Cannabis…both good for Alaska.

  • Lance, get a life !

  • People must have been stoned to think the government could run this right.

  • I could care less if this application ever gets approved. I am unaware of any rationale that supports the proposition that we need MORE MARIJUANA. One of the biggest mistakes ever made in this state.

    • While I tend to agree with your stated position, the simple fact is that it is a legal operation/business. As such, the state, via AMCO, needs to correct its severe case of rectal/cranial inversion.

      • They are still violating Federal Laws. So, no it is not a legal operation/business.

  • The state law says they can’t advertise marijuana for its medical use, but all of them do. The state law says they can’t put establishments within a certain distance of churches, schools, and parks, but they do. They can’t have firearms on the premises, but they do. Minors can’t be on the premises, but I see them there all the time. This State License regimen is a total and complete farce!

  • Deadlines matter, at least one business has be harmed. I will never be a customer of that business but that is not the issue. The issue needs to be focused on the failure of the board and the negative impact on a legal business. I want to see any business harmed by a bureaucrat’s action or inaction made hold. It is no different in my mind than the PFD office treating paper applications different from online when disbursting OFF checks. The government works for the benefit of the citizens and not the other way. We, the people are the leaders …let’s act like leaders and push for accountability in our government!

  • If we just gave up our PFD’s and paid a State Income Tax this stuff wouldn’t happen.

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