On November 20, Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board voted to allow consumption of marijuana at licensed retail stores. The amended regulation must pass through a few more procedural hurdles before going into effect. The Department of Law will conduct a formal review on the new regulation and then it will be submitted to Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott for final approval. If this regulation ultimately passes, Alaska will become the first state to allow for marijuana consumption bars.

Alaska may become the first state to allow cannabis bars. This makes us very happy.
Alaska may become the first state to allow cannabis bars. This makes us very happy.

This will be a huge deal.

Prior to November 20, the Board maintained that it lacked authority to create a new type of license because Alaska’s legalization initiative created only four types of cannabis licenses: retail, cultivation, manufacturing, and testing. Instead of creating a new license for marijuana bars, the Board chose to allow consumption under a retail license. The Board also sidestepped Alaska’s law prohibiting marijuana consumption in a public place. The proposed regulation would exempt retail stores from being defined as a public place.

Despite this change by the Board, limitations on marijuana consumption in retail stores remain. According to Alaska Dispatch News, members of the Board stated that this law does not impact local smoking prohibitions. Unlike many other states, Alaska does not have statewide prohibitions on smoking, but its municipalities can enact their own localized smoking prohibitions and though these no-smoking laws were put in place to prevent tobacco smoke, they also apply to marijuana. For example, Anchorage prohibits smoking in all public places and places of employment. Though retail stores are exempted from the Alaska state law definition of “public place,” they would still be considered a place of employment under Anchorage law. Therefore, a retail store in Anchorage could not permit its patrons to smoke marijuana in the store, but they could permit them to consume it in other ways.

If Alaska moves forward (and my firm’s Alaska lawyers tell me that it will) it will mark a major departure from other states that have legalized adult use marijuana but failed to provide a legally sanctioned place to consume. All of the other states that have legalized recreational marijuana so far (Colorado, Oregon and Washington) prohibit consuming marijuana in public places. This makes it very difficult for the homeless, tourists, renters, and condominium owners, whose buildings or hotels likely forbid smoking and/or marijuana use, to find a place where they can legally consume. As we have written previously, landlords can still legally evict their tenants for smoking.

Our kudos to Alaska.