Home Community Politics Assembly Beat: Anchorage Public Marijuana Consumption, an Alcohol Tax, and April Bond Propositions

Public Marijuana Consumption, an Alcohol Tax, and April Bond Propositions


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Editor’s note: John Aronno was Patrick Flynn’s staffer from 2009-2012. His views are irreparably his own.

At last night’s meeting, the Anchorage Assembly stocked the April municipal ballot with decisions for municipal residents to mull over. Those items include the following bond propositions:

  • $5.45 million to pay for capital improvements, including public facility safety upgrades, Chester Creek Sports Complex parking lot expansion, Mulcahy Stadium relocation, Library automated handling system improvements, improvements to Anchorage Golf Course, and related capital improvements.
  • $2.75 million to pay the costs of constructing, renovating, and equipping park, trail, and recreational facilities capital improvements and related capital improvements, and the question of an increase in the municipal tax cap limitation to pay associated operations and maintenance costs in the Anchorage Parks and Recreation Service Area, without cost to Chugiak, Eagle River, Girdwood, and other taxpayers outside the service area.
  • $1.8 million to pay the costs of fire protection capital improvements and related capital improvements in the Anchorage Fire Service Area.
  • $6.76 million to pay the costs of areawide safety and public transportation capital improvements and related capital improvements, and the question of an increase in the municipal tax cap limitation to pay associated operations and maintenance costs.
  • $14.85 million to finance a port of seven Alaska Water and Wastewater Utility capital improvement water projects.

A seventh bond proposition to provide over $17 million in funding to road and storm drainage capital improvements was postponed.

Girdwood residents, in addition, will be voting on a ballot proposition deciding on whether or not their community wishes to operate and maintain a municipal cemetery, which would be at their own expense.

The bulk of the evening was devoted to two more controversial measures.

The first was AO-2015-7, an ordinance designed to clear up ambiguity in the marijuana legalization ballot measure passed by voters last year. The initiative language banned the consumption marijuana in public places, but failed to define what exactly constitutes a public place. At the request of Mayor Dan Sullivan, Assembly Chair Dick Traini created that definition: “On, in or upon any public place, except as permitted by ordinance, regulation, statute or permit; or [o]utdoors on property adjacent to a public place, and without consent of the owner or person in control thereof[.]”


a place to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access and includes, but is not limited to, streets, highways, sidewalks, alleys, transportation facilities, parking areas, convention centers, sports arenas, schools, places of business or amusement, shopping centers, malls, parks, playgrounds, prisons, and hallways, lobbies, doorways and other portions of apartment houses and hotels not constituting rooms or apartments designed for actual residence.

Violators will be fined $100 per infraction. There’s no escalation for repeat offenders.

Downtown Assemblyman Patrick Flynn suggested an amendment, to parallel the requirements of public marijuana consumption with alcohol, amending the ordinance (the bold is the amendment, the not-bold is the language it is attached to): “this section shall not apply to where consumption is authorized by a state permit or license or authorized by a municipal permit or lease. Violation of this section is a minor offense punishable as set forth in the minor offenses fine schedule.”

Flynn’s amendment was adopted with near unanimous support. East side Assemblyman Paul Honeman dissented.

Eagle River Assemblyman Bill Starr added a second. “We meet several times a month because we’re under Charter to do so,” Starr explained. “Juneau’s going to have one crack at legislation and then they’re going to have a recess. I see this lingering.” He added a new section in the ordinance that would bring the question of public consumption regulations back in front of the body for review prior to February 24, 2016. “Forcing the conversation back to us a year from when it starts, it says, hey, if Juneau still drags their feet, we’re going to still have to converse about this.”

The amendment was adopted unanimously. The overall ordinance passed by the same tally.

The other item of note on the agenda was the first public hearing on AO-2015-10, an ordinance proposing a new alcohol tax to fund alcohol treatment and other public safety uses within the municipality.

By Charter, any new tax must be approved by a nearly hopeless three-fifths majority of voters, but Traini found a backdoor to secure the additional revenue with a simple 50-plus-one majority. The Charter carved out an exemption for Anchorage’s hotel, motel, and bed and breakfast room tax. In 2005, then-Mayor Begich amended the Charter to also exempt the construction of the Dena’ina Center without doing so solely through property taxes. Traini is using the same vehicle to carry AO-10.

Still, getting a majority of voters — even a simple one — to approve a new tax is a lofty goal.

Testimony lasted about an hour and overwhelmingly supported the move.

The tax levied on each retail sale of alcohol has yet to be set, but Traini said that would be solidified before the next, and likely final, public comment on February 3.

John Aronno is a co-founder, managing editor, and award winning political writer at Alaska Commons. Aronno has had his work featured in the Huffington Post, the Anchorage Press, the Alaska Dispatch, and the Rachel Maddow Show, and is listed among the state’s top reporters on the Washington Post’s “The Fix.” He writes the weekly column “On Politics” for Alaska Commons. Aronno lives in Anchorage, Alaska with his wife, Heather Aronno, and a lot of pets.

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