AK: Utqiagvik To Hold Special Election On Marijuana Tax

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Photo Credit: Matthew Jonas

Voters in the city of Utqiaġvik will head to the polls at the end of this month to have their say on a proposed marijuana sales tax.

There is only one question on the ballot: Should Ordinance No. 01-2018 be ratified? Ratifying an ordinance means the public gives it official support, making it valid.

The ordinance in question calls for an 8 percent retail sales tax on marijuana sold within city limits. The city council passed the ordinance Feb. 22.

This is the most recent in a complicated series of moves as the city has attempted to find a way of dealing with legalized marijuana in the state.

The city itself has not yet voted for the local option of marijuana. Similar to alcohol, communities have the ability to decide how cannabis is controlled within their borders.

However, the city has taken steps to ensure anyone who might apply for a business license to open a marijuana dispensary will have regulations guiding them through the process.

“The city of Utqiaġvik has been approached (b)y various entities (and) individuals seeking information on opening public marijuana dispensaries inside city limits,” City Clerk Loyla Leavitt wrote in a public notice on the special election. “The city must be prepared in case a dispensary presents itself. We must be ready to receive a business application at any time.”

The city held a series of town hall meetings on marijuana regulation in December. They were supposed to focus on the establishment of a regulatory body, but often tended toward polarizing debates over the merits of marijuana use and availability in the community.

On Dec. 21, the council did end up passing that first ordinance, which created a regulatory authority that would be responsible for “otherwise regulating the operation of marijuana establishments, marijuana and marijuana products within the city,” as the ordinance reads.

That body is the council itself. Being the regulatory authority does not mean the council supports the opening of a dispensary, just that it would oversee the process, should it happen.

Since then, the city council has taken a few steps toward building parameters for marijuana distribution. First, it moved to prevent edibles from ever being distributed in the community “for the safety and welfare of the children of Utqiaġvik,” as Leavitt explained in the notice.

It also passed the ordinance in question here — No. 01-2018 — to enact a sales tax on marijuana, should it ever be sold through a dispensary within city limits. The ordinance notes money from the tax will go to the city.

With the vote coming in just a few weeks, the city has scheduled two town hall meetings to gather public comments and concerns on the sales tax ordinance. The first meeting happened on Tuesday, April 10. The second, and final, is scheduled for Tuesday, April 24 at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers.

The special election is set for April 30. Absentee ballots are already available. Anyone who would like to vote absentee can pick one up at the city hall building at 2022 Ahkovak St.

The city noted any questions about the election may be directed to City Clerk Leavitt at 907-852-5211.

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