Cannabis social clubs began forming shortly after the state of Alaska legalized marijuana for recreational use. However, the state’s attorney general office says these unlicensed venues where people gather to smoke weed are illegal.
Chris Hladick, the head of Alaska’s Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, asked Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth for a legal opinion regarding cannabis social clubs. According to a 14-page document from the attorney general, they aren’t operating within the law.
“If that place is not a licensed retail marijuana store, consuming marijuana there is unlawful,” Lindemuth wrote in the opinion.
In 2014, recreational marijuana became legal in Alaska. Shortly thereafter, cannabis social clubs began cropping up throughout Anchorage, on the Kenai Peninsula, Wasilla, and Fairbanks. To become a member of the club, people pay a fee and get access to a place where marijuana can be smoked. While free samples are often handed out, members are required to bring their own stash of weed with them.
One cannabis social club, Pot Luck Events, disagreed with the attorney general’s judgment.
“We want to be in conformance with the law, however, this is still an opinion … it’s not a statute at this point. We want to make that very clear,” said Pot Luck representative Lee Haywood.
Haywood plans to meet with attorneys to construct a strategy to fight the issue. Pot Luck does not offer free samples or sell cannabis, Haywood affirmed.
While recreational weed is legal in the state, public smoking is not. Under Alaska’s law, a public place is described as any business or location where groups of people can gather. According to Lindemuth, a cannabis social club meets this definition, therefore making them illegal.
Pot Luck argues that the club is private and not a public place, so they do not meet the definition as designated by the attorney general.
“We’re not like a movie theater. You can’t just walk in off the street. There’s membership forms you have to fill out, caveats and rules that you have to fill out before even crossing our threshold,” said Haywood.
Any cannabis social club that provides free samples of cannabis is breaking the law. In Lindemuth’s opinion, a club possessing more than one ounce of weed exceeds the personal-use limit allowed by law and should be charged with criminal possession.
Since a member must pay a fee to enter the cannabis social club, a venue can be accused of transferring marijuana for payment, even if the cannabis samples are labeled as “free.” The law applies even if a third party not necessarily connected to the club supplies the cannabis.
The Alaska Marijuana Industry Association doesn’t believe the marijuana social clubs need to be shut down, but they do create potential ambiguity in the law.
“I don’t think at the moment they are posing a problem, but I understand that legally … they’re outside the exact parameters of what the law states,” said Cary Carrigan, executive director of the organization. “The law is pretty simple to read. Is anybody going to enforce it, I guess is a better question.”
As reported by the Alaska Dispatch News, the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office intends to enforce the law. They plan to work with local law enforcement agencies to weed out illicit cannabis use. A press release from the agency reminded municipalities that they have the power to eliminate the activities of cannabis social clubs within their city or borough.
In Alaska, public use of cannabis carries a fine of $100. Unless someone is selling weed to a minor, most laws pertaining to marijuana crimes are considered misdemeanors. Precisely what penalties marijuana social clubs will face has yet to be determined.
The Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office shut down three cannabis social clubs last year. While the Board does not have the specific authority to regulate the clubs, they do have the ability to go after unlicensed marijuana businesses. So far, Pot Luck Events has escaped any scrutiny from the agency.
The attorney general’s opinion of cannabis social clubs does not apply to licensed marijuana shops. Alaska’s Control Board does allow public weed smoking inside any licensed retail shop.
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