Wrangell Sentinel -

By Dan Rudy 

Assembly ponders public pot penalties, budget


Members of Wrangell's City and Borough Assembly narrowly took their first step toward restricting the consumption of marijuana on public or private property, electing in a 3-2 split to approve an ordinance on first reading at their Tuesday evening meeting.

Alaska Statute 17.38 took effect on Feb. 24, expanding significantly the circumstances in which a person can legally possess, transport and use the drug, following approval of a ballot measure during last November's elections. More than 57 percent of Wrangell voters approved the measure, four points higher than the state average.

Assembly member Daniel Blake had recommended drafting an ordinance at the Feb. 10 meeting, which takes into account current state regulations as well as an emergency regulation clarifying the state's definition of a “public space.”

At the first reading of Wrangell's prospective Ordinance 896, Assembly members questioned whether it would be redundant to have an ordinance in place locally when the state has similar regulations in place.

Mayor David Jack explained having such an ordinance would have a revenue-collecting purpose, allowing the Borough to collect fines rather than referring infractions to the state. The ordinance under review would make public consumption of marijuana a minor offense subject to a $100 fine.

Departing from the state's definition of “highways, transportation facilities, schools, places of amusement or business, parks, playgrounds, prisons and hallways, lobbies, and hotels," Wrangell's ordinance would also include streets, sidewalks, alleys and parking areas, and would extend to barring consumption “outdoors on property adjacent to a public place,” without consent of the property owner.

Assembly member Julie Decker expressed concern that the ordinance as written would prohibit pot use within businesses geared to accommodate such activity.

“I actually have the opinion that one of the more responsible places to have or consume (marijuana) would be at a licensed bar,” she said. “To me, it's more likely a responsible place of business.”

“The bar is a sensible place to control it,” agreed Assembly member Mark Mitchell.

Decker also pointed out the inclusion of “streets” in the definition of a public place covered virtually all property in Wrangell as being adjacent.

“If you're on any property it's pretty much every place,” Decker said. Citing dissatisfaction with the language, Decker and Blake voted against the proposal. It will be up for second reading and final approval at the next meeting, following a public hearing on March 24.

Two other ordinances were passed on first reading with relatively less comment, adding provisions for an alternate director to the Southeast Solid Waste Authority board to Wrangell's Municipal Code and adjusting admission rates to the Nolan Center Museum.

Regular admission would be raised to $7, and the resident price of $2 would be done away with. Friends of the Museum would no longer get free admittance but would be charged a $4 fee per visit.

“I think if you're ponying up some cash to be a Friend of the Museum it ought to be a perk,” opined Assembly member Stephen Prysunka, favoring maintaining the previous arrangement.

The museum rates have not been adjusted in over a decade, and Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch explained the change would raise about $8,000 each year, the majority of which would come from outside visitors.

Jabusch added user-based fee increases might have to become more of a norm as the Borough looks to tighten its budget. Jabusch testified on behalf of Wrangell last week at a state-level budget hearing arranged by the legislature, in favor of maintaining funding for the ferry system, Wrangell's jail, public radio and other items important to the community where cuts were being considered.

He said the city is also looking at various means to save money, such as the miscellaneous fee increases. “I think we are going to have to do more of this kind of thing,” Jabusch told the Assembly. “We're looking at a lot of different things and we have some different ideas.”

Public input in the Borough's budgeting process will also be sought toward the end of April when a 2016 Fiscal Year draft budget is prepared for review. More information on what cuts may occur will be available as that develops.


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