The personal use of marijuana becomes legal in Alaska on Feb. 24, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Pixaby)

The personal use of marijuana becomes legal in Alaska on Feb. 24, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Pixaby)

The Sitka Assembly took its first step Tuesday night (1-27-15) toward shaping local marijuana laws.

The personal use of marijuana becomes legal in Alaska next month. At that point, anyone over 21 will be allowed to possess up to four ounces. But the state law bans public consumption, making it punishable by a fine of up to $100. (The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has a list of frequently asked questions about what is and is not legal.)

As written, Sitka’s law would forbid the ingestion of marijuana — that includes both smoking and eating — in any “municipally controlled area open to the general public.”

City Attorney Robin Koutchak said that under her interpretation, that includes not just streets, harbors, playgrounds and school grounds — which are specifically listed in the ordinance — but also private establishments, like bars or restaurants, as long as they are open to the public.

“I’m thinking, yeah, it wouldn’t be allowed in a bar,” Koutchak said.  “But it would be allowed in a private club.”

The fact that the ordinance leaves the door open to private clubs, and also allows the Assembly to make exceptions for special events, did not sit well with Sitka resident Andrea Thomas.

“This ordinance that’s written right here, is the most liberal ordinance in the nation. In the nation!” Thomas said. “Do you want Sitka to have the most liberal ordinance in the nation for marijuana use? I really don’t think the public wants that.”

Thomas said that when she voted in favor of Ballot Measure 2, the voter initiative that legalized marijuana, it was to prevent people from going to jail for using pot — not because she wanted a cannabis cafe in Sitka.

But Assembly Member Michelle Putz said that during a town hall meeting earlier this month, Sitkans seemed open to exactly that.

“Someone asked the question at that meeting, how many people would like to see, essentially, a club or some sort of something where public consumption could happen. And it seemed like about 75% of that room had their hands up,” Putz said.  “I’m really uncomfortable with the idea that people would just be doing this in a bar…But honestly, I’ve also been to Amsterdam, and I have seen coffee houses, and they seem like pretty mellow places, that are pretty well-controlled.”

“People there are very quiet,” she said, with a laugh.

The Assembly approved the ordinance unanimously on first reading. It must go through at least one more vote before it becomes law.

And as they voted, Assembly members stressed one thing: this is just the beginning. There will be many edits and additions in the months ahead.