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'Disappointed tourists' must wait, says Alaska marijuana advocate

An Alaskan farmer says he's encountering Canadian tourists disappointed they can't yet buy legal marijuana in the state. Alaska voted to legalize in 2014, but the legislation is not yet in place.

Alaskan farmer says state is behind on legalization, but delays are justified

The latest version of Alaska's draft rules on marijuana were sent for public consultation this week. (David McNew/Reuters)

An Alaska marijuana advocate says the state is making progress towards legalization, even if it's not fast enough for some Canadian tourists.

"Weekly, I hear from tourists who come up and are confused because they couldn't find the open shops yet," says Leif Abel, who chairs the Alaska Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation.

He says there have been delays in the law, but he accepts it's a complicated project.

Leif Abel has plans to legally grow marijuana in Kasilof, Alaska. He says the delays are understandable and is urging Canadians to be patient and respect the law. (Leif Abel/Facebook)

This week, the latest version of the state's draft rules were sent for public consultation.

The state has already announced marijuana will be taxed at $50 an ounce, with revenues going towards drug rehabilitation programs, halfway houses and programs to reduce and help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

First legal harvest could be this fall

Abel is planning to become a marijuana farmer in Kasilof, Alaska. He says entrepreneurs like himself have been waiting for permission, but the state has been missing its deadlines. 

"By May 24 we were supposed to have our licenses issued for at least the cultivation," he said.

Still, Abel and his family are celebrating a milestone this week — Alaska's Marijuana Control Board granted his company Greatland Ganja "active status," which is rare.

'I would say by mid-October, your tourists and our locals in Alaska can expect to see some open shops where you can go purchase cannabis."- Leif Abel, marijuana farmer and advocate

The state has 1,321 similar applications in progress and only four have been given that level of approval so far. Abel says the designation is significant enough to justify investing in construction of an indoor growing factory.

Abel says Alaska's first legal harvest could be this fall, as growers and retailers start to be approved by the state. 

"I would say by mid-October, your tourists and our locals in Alaska can expect to see some open shops where you can go purchase cannabis."

Alaska is the only state in the U.S. considering marijuana bars or cafés, which will sell and allow consumption of marijuana on site. 

No tolerance at the border

Abel has some advice, though, for any Canadian pot tourists planning trips: remember that Alaska's legalization referendum has changed nothing at the border.

Alaska is the only state in the U.S. considering marijuana bars or cafés, which will sell and allow consumption of marijuana on site. (Alaska Marijuana Industry Association)

Marijuana is still illegal in Canada, and border guards are enforcing the law despite the federal government's pledge to introduce legalization legislation by next year. 

"I would say to all the consumers and all the tourists: treat it like nothing has changed," Abel said.

"Until we're giving notice otherwise, don't try and cross the border with cannabis, please. Let's not make this any harder on our officials than we have to."   

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