On Tuesday, Dec. 10, Bethel City Council approved the sale of property for a marijuana store. For the past few months, council has been grappling with this potential sale. Council members understand that in agreeing to the sale of property to the owners of Kusko Kush, they came to a conclusion that may be unpopular with the public.
The property sale to Kusko Kush’s parent company, Essenkay, LLC, passed 5-1. Mayor Perry Barr, Vice-Mayor Haley Hanson, and council members Michelle DeWitt, Mark Springer, and Alyssa Gustafson-Leary voted in favor. Council member Fred Watson opposed the sale, and Cecilia "Cece" Franko was absent on travel. This will authorize the city manager to negotiate and execute the sale.
“This is kind of a bitter pill to swallow,” said Barr. “We’re forced into a corner to make a decision that is not very popular at all.”
Barr and several other council members reported receiving many calls from the public asking them not to approve this sale. Springer said that he felt dirty about the whole deal.
“I think the city is being bullied, to a certain extent,” Springer said, referring to the lawsuit that Kusko Kush owners Jared Karr and Naim Shabani had threatened to file against the city. He said that the grounds for the lawsuit were questionable, but he still voted for the sale to avoid litigation.
“Going to the bar on this could be a very expensive proposition for the city in terms of time and money,” Springer said.
To review why the city was at risk of being sued: the City of Bethel signed a 15-year lease agreement with Essenkay, LLC in April 2019. When council members learned that they were leasing property to a marijuana store, they said that they would void the lease because they feared losing federal grants. The marijuana store owners said that the city was backing out of a signed contract, leaving them no choice but to sue. However, the city claimed that the original contract prohibited federally illegal activities like marijuana sales. The question of who’s right on that issue may never be resolved, since the matter won’t go to court.
While the property sale was Kusko Kush’s biggest obstacle, the marijuana store still needs to obtain a conditional use permit from the city’s planning committee and receive state fire marshal approval. Then, Kusko Kush may become Bethel’s second marijuana store. The first, ALASKAbuds, is set to open later this month.