ALASKAbuds has cleared the first hurdle on its way to becoming Bethel’s first cannabis stop. The Bethel Planning Commission granted the store a conditional use permit last night, saying that it met with the city's land use requirements, despite many community members speaking against allowing the store to have a permit. KYUK Municipal Reporter Christine Trudeau has the details.
Bethel City Hall saw quite the turn out for a planning commission meeting at the first public hearing on the conditional use permit for ALASKAbuds - a marijuana store.
Planning Director Betsy Jumper found that Nick Miller’s application for the store, located in a commercial and retail part of town, met the city's basic land use zoning requirements, and recommended approval. But when the time for public testimony came, eight people raised concerns about youth, public health, and morality.
“This plan does not address the welfare of our youth,” said Kuskokwim Learning Academy teacher Danielle Craven. “Kids go to the barbershop all the time. Our youth are using [marijuana] already at a rate that is detrimental to their health, and I’m seeing it in students who are withdrawing, who are going to mental health services, who are struggling. And so I strongly encourage you to consider this decision for our youth.”
Lower Kuskokwim School District Safety Coordinator and Bethel City Council member Perry Barr spoke of his personal concerns for youth, but also said that it was a “rotten location, to put it bluntly.”
“While I’m getting a haircut, I don’t wanna smell marijuana,” Barr said. “When I’m getting a filling I don’t wanna smell marijuana either, so I think this is a very bad place. But again, I’m also against the idea of a retail shop into our community.”
Joel Thomas, with LKSD’s residential program, works with over 80 students a year coming in from villages. He thinks that having such a store there would send the wrong message to young people.
“You know, you see a store and you begin to think ‘oh, it’s socially acceptable.' And the students don’t understand the reality of how it’ll impact them legally, and I would like to reduce the availability of marijuana on their behalf, and not increase it, so that they can be more successful,” said Thomas.
Former Bethel City Council member and Alaska Marijuana Control Board Chairman Mark Springer also spoke, but only addressed the process of regulation for legal sales.
“The cannabis industry in this state, the cultivation, the sale, the testing, is highly regulated by our board,” Springer said. “We have a very robust set of regulations. We have a very strong enforcement arm.”
There are more regulatory steps for the license to go through. The majority of the planning commission felt that the decision about whether Bethel should have such a shop would best left up to the city council.
The commission did have concerns about adequate parking. The final vote to grant the conditional use permit was four to one, with members Scott Campbell and Shadi Rabi absent, and Lorin Bradbury casting the opposing vote, saying that he was concerned about the overall community impact of a marijuana shop.
Nick Miller, who also serves as the industry representative on the Marijuana Control Board, will now wait for the February 20 to 22 meeting for final application approval. If that comes through, the Bethel City Council will have 60 days to protest or take no action. It is certain to come up for more public comment.
Miller has 18 months to comply with the additional requirements of the conditional use permit, including marked parking spaces and extra lot lighting.