Anchorage, Alaska Votes To License Hash Cafes

Photo by Jan Mika.


by Jeremy Daw

on March 27, 2015

The following article first appeared in The Leaf Online.

In one of the earliest moves to resolve a central contradiction of U.S. cannabis legalization laws, the Anchorage, Alaska city council has reiterated its opposition to cannabis consumption in public places — except for licensed cannabis cafes.

Civil fines for smoking in all other public places will be $100 per infraction — the same amount indicated under Ballot Measure 2, the successful voter-led legalization campaign which starting going into effect on February 24th. But the city council also approved an amendment to their smoking ban which allows an exception for city-permitted establishments, in a rule similar to the one many cities use for bars and other businesses which allow on-site consumption of intoxicants.

As obvious as the solution may seem to voters who explicitly decided to treat cannabis “like alcohol,” it is one that to date most municipal governments have tried to side-step entirely, leaving “legal” adult consumers in regulatory limbo. Colorado voters also demanded that cannabis be treated like alcohol, yet even though their legalization program has had a two-year head start on Alaska’s, major cities like Denver have still failed to regulate consumption in public places, leading to a squeeze on out-of-state tourists through a wave of $250 hotel room cleaning fees.

Thus the move by the city of Anchorage represents one of the earliest attempts by a major U.S. city to resolve the contradiction and allow adults a legal public place to consume cannabis. Reform advocates played a pivotal role, as the council only added language clarifying the legality of licensed hash bars after a strong showing of support from the Alaska Cannabis Association and the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation.

This kind of regulation, although novel under the new wave of legalization laws passed since 2012, is not foreign to medical marijuana jurisdictions, notes Dale Gieringer of California NORML, who points out that San Francisco, for example, has allowed patients to medicate at some dispensaries. And the list of regulating municipalities may grow soon. “In Oakland,” says Gieringer, “the city’s cannabis regulatory commission has asked the city council to look into allowing licensed on-site consumption.”

The issue is a fundamental one for Gieringer, who also points to the example of Amsterdam, where “coffee shops” allowing on-site consumption of small amounts of cannabis have caused no major problems. “Cal NORML thinks it’s essential that there be legal premises for consumers to use cannabis,” says Gieringer. “We regard it as part of the fundamental right of freedom to associate.”

Jeremy Daw is the editor of and Cannabis Now Magazine, and the author of Weed the People: From Founding Fiber to Forbidden Fruit (2012).