Alaska Marijuana Board Gets More Industry-Friendly Chair

Photo Credit: Mark Thiessen

The board that regulates Alaska’s legal marijuana industry has a more industry-friendly chair.

State marijuana regulators also reacted to the Trump administration’s more hardline approach to pot.

Mark Springer was elected Wednesday by fellow board members on the Marijuana Control Board.

Board member Brandon Emmett, an active proponent of legal marijuana, praised Springer’s tenure to date.

“You’ve been a member of this board since its inception and I feel that you’ve brought a measured approach to all the decisions you’ve made on the board,” Emmett said. “I think you make a fine chair.”

A Bethel city councilman, Springer replaces Soldotna Police Chief Peter Mlynarik, who some pot business owners had accused of being a “prohibitionist” hostile to the industry.

Alaska Marijuana Industry Association executive director Cary Carrigan said by contrast Springer has proven even-handed.

“I consider him extremely objective and consider him really well-read and thoughtful about what he makes decisions on,” Carrigan said after the vote. “And I’ve seen him pull back on things that which I thought could have been pushed forward but at the same time I think it’s because of that thoughtful approach that I think he’s going to be a really big addition and I really approve of him as being the chair.”

Mlynarik resigned last month after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a memo calling marijuana “a dangerous drug.”

Sessions’ also rescinded Obama administration-era legal guidance to federal prosecutors advising them to defer to state laws.

Mlynarik explained his resignation saying the Trump administration’s posture undercut the legitimacy of state-regulated marijuana.

Alaska Department of Law says it’s still business as usual.

“In terms of the day-to-day operation of Alaska’s licensed marijuana businesses, the Sessions memo by itself doesn’t change things,” Assistant Attorney General Harriet Milks, who advises the marijuana control board, said.

Milks told the board that the most troubling aspect of Washington’s hostile approach is the roadblocks that remain for banks to do business with the industry.

“There’s some concern – it’s just concern – that financial institutions will be ever more reluctant to work with cannabis businesses,” Milks told the board. “That will leave the multi-billion dollar cannabis industry highly vulnerable, or more vulnerable, to criminal activity — not to mention creating problems for states’ efforts to track and collect taxes.”

Most banks already refuse to accept the proceeds of legal marijuana for fear of running afoul of federal laws.

Alaska’s attorney general has joined 18 others to petition Congress to update the law.

Mlynarik’s resignation also left an opening for a public safety designee on the board, which has since been filled by Gov. Walker who’s appointed North Slope Borough Police Chief Travis Welch.

Welch’s appointment and the reappointment of two other sitting members will be subject to confirmation by the Alaska Legislature.