Budding Industry: The Fight to Keep Cannabis Legal

Budding Industry: The Fight to Keep Cannabis Legal

By Whitney Branshaw

Photos by Holly Abel and Steve Waldron

 

It’s 9:43 p.m. on Sunday, October 1 as I finally sit down to write this piece in hopes of keeping cannabis legal in two of Alaska’s top producing areas for legal cannabis. Time has gotten away from me once again and I realize there is no choice but to stay up and write through the night.

 

On the homepage of the “Keep Cannabis Legal” campaign website they have a countdown clock that is ticking towards the borough-wide commercial cannabis ban vote. It reads one day and 22 hours. It’s getting down to the wire. On October 3, voters in the Kenai Peninsula Borough (KPB)  as well as the city of Fairbanks, and the Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB), will vote on whether or not to continue to allow the operation of legal commercial cannabis businesses in their communities.

 
 Chevelle and Art Abel, co-founders of Greatland Ganja sign wave with their family. If the ban vote goes through, the Abels would have to shutter the doors of their legal cannabis business. 

Chevelle and Art Abel, co-founders of Greatland Ganja sign wave with their family. If the ban vote goes through, the Abels would have to shutter the doors of their legal cannabis business. 

 

In 2014, when we legalized recreational cannabis in the state of Alaska through Proposition 2, we also voted for language within the proposition that allowed any community in Alaska to opt out of legal weed. That means that through local government any Joe Schmo can get their panties in a bunch and blaze a trail of reefer madness by advocating for the unfounded evils of the devil’s lettuce, aiming to thwart the legal cannabis industry in our state.  

 

Exactly one year ago today I wrote an article about the efforts of prohibitionists behind these initiatives that have made their way to the ballot in real time. Over the first year of legal cultivation, manufacturing and sales, the KPB and FNSB are now two of our largest producers of legal cannabis. Each community represents hundreds of people, including entire families that would be negatively impacted by shutting down the legal cannabis industry. If these initiatives are successful both communities will not only lose the safety and accountability of the legal cannabis industry, but they’ll also lose tax revenue and the economic stimulus it provides to other non-cannabis related small businesses throughout the area. Think contractors, electricians, construction workers, security firms, plumbers, painters, the list goes on. The abrupt end of the safe and successful legal industry would also make way for a large resurgence of the already ever-present black market side of the industry. The black market is alive and well in Alaska and without legal access that fire will end up burning even brighter.

 

The KPB Proposition 1 intends to criminalize all commercial cannabis business within the KPB, as well as the incorporated city limit. If passed, communities like Seward, Kasilof, Sterling and Funny River would have to cease business operations within 90 days and shutter their windows. The interesting part of this initiative is that it doesn’t aim to end the use or sales of legal cannabis. That’s right folks, you can buy it and you can smoke it, but you wouldn’t be able to legally grow commercial cannabis, funneling thousands upon thousands of dollars to other communities that would end up supplying product to legal retail stores. Only those who are outside a given city’s  limit are allowed to vote on prop 1, making it even more important for those that can vote, to vote.

 
 Jan Waldron and Ann Fraser sign waving in Kasilof. 

Jan Waldron and Ann Fraser sign waving in Kasilof. 

 

Last week I caught up with Leif Abel, co-founder of Greatland Ganja in Kasilof, and he shared this hopeful view: “When we use the facts, it’s not a hard debate. In fact, sometimes I end up feeling sorry for the opposition during our debates. Their arguments are based on studies that are easy to debunk given that there is no controls in these studies and they use incredibly small sample sizes. We also have the facts from our community, and there hasn’t been any negative or adverse effects of the legal cannabis industry. In my eyes, it’s only positive improvement.”

 

Those that can vote in this area that support the legal cannabis industry continuing to operate should vote NO on Proposition 1 on Tuesday October 3. Go to www.keepcannabislegal.com for more information on where to vote.

 

In the FNSB the community is facing not one but two propositions that separately aim to ban commercial cannabis businesses. Prop 1 would ban commercial cannabis in the Fairbanks Borough. Prop A would ban commercial operations in the City of Fairbanks. The effort to ban commercial cannabis is led by a group who uses the tagline “Safer Neighborhoods” as a scare tactic to advocate for what would end up being an unregulated market. However, there is also a large number of pro-cannabis voters who support keeping a safe and legal cannabis market available in their community. Frank Berardi, owner of Good Titrations in Fairbanks, is also optimistic about the outcome of the vote. “At this point in the game we aren’t afraid of losing the fight, we just want to win by a landslide. There are many people who did not vote in favor of Proposition 2 in 2014 that are now switching their vote to support the continued operation of the legal cannabis industry because they can see the positive aspects of what we have done for our community. That is something that [we] appreciate most, informed thinking and support.”

 

If you support the operations of legal cannabis business in the FNSB then vote NO on Prop 1 and Prop A on Tuesday October 3.

 

While there is optimism in those that stand to lose the most in this fight, the reality is that this has been a tough battle. These business owners have known that these initiatives would be up for vote sooner rather than later. The amount of hours, stress, time, energy and resources poured into these campaigns that support our industry are immeasurable. The good news, though, is this: the anti-pot narrative is what is now becoming unpopular. Slowly but surely, we are actively moving towards the end of the prohibition of cannabis. We are changing that narrative through consistent messaging and education, as well as the abundant amount of anecdotal evidence that has flooded our state’s legal market. I have faith that the will of the people will prevail, and that our communities will continue to benefit from the positive impacts of the budding legal industry in Alaska.

 

To everyone I know and love operating a legal cannabis business on either the KPB or the FNSB, my heart is with you.