Alaska is one of only four states that have legalized commercial marijuana for recreational use. At this point, all four states run their marijuana retail industries like their liquor retail industries.
Consumers go to liquor stores to buy alcohol, and they go to marijuana dispensary storefronts to buy marijuana. But people can also go to bars to buy alcohol. They’re not allowed to consume marijuana in public – yet. Alaska might just change that in the near future.
According to James Brooks of Juneau Empire, the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office is actively preparing draft regulations for on-site consumption of marijuana. Retailers would need to apply for a special license to sell marijuana to customers who could consume it at the retailer’s location.
In other words, marijuana bars are coming to Alaska, and other states are very likely to follow. After all, legalized recreational marijuana could lead to an influx of travelers who would have nowhere to consume the marijuana that they purchase legally while they’re on vacation in one of these states.
Licensing Takes a Long Time and the Marijuana Industry Keeps Evolving
While Alaskans voted to legalize recreational marijuana back in 2014, commercial sales licenses won’t be issued until this summer at the earliest. Just a few months ago, in late 2015, the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office voted to allow marijuana stores to consume marijuana products at retailers’ locations, but those locations would need special licenses. Given the fact that commercial sales licenses haven’t been issued yet, it’s safe to assume that onsite consumption licenses won’t be granted to anyone in the near future.
However, the path is clear. Commercial licenses and onsite consumption licenses are coming, and the marijuana industry is looking more like the alcohol industry every day. In fact, there has been a bill in Congress since last year that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. If removed, it would be taxed and regulated just like alcohol.
Marijuana bars and revised regulations have also been on alcohol companies’ radar screens for years. There is a high likelihood that commercial marijuana could take a bite out of alcohol companies’ sales, but a loss of market share doesn’t have to end badly for alcohol companies. Entrepreneurs see it as an opportunity. Will Yakowicz of Inc reports that some marijuana-related businesses are opening their doors with a specific long-term goal – to be acquired by an alcohol company.
Legalized Marijuana Leads to More Licenses
The onsite consumption license for marijuana retailers isn’t the only new type of license that the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office is considering. As early as November of last year, the Board began considering a cultivator broker license. Based on the definition of a broker, we can assume that this type of license would allow marijuana cultivators to act as agents for customers and charge those customers commissions for their services. It’s just one more step in the evolution of the marijuana industry.
As one of the first states in the country to legalize recreational marijuana for commercial sale, Alaska is paving the way for other states to follow. Is the Alaska model the right one? That remains to be seen, but one thing is certain. This is an industry that consumers want to grow faster than regulators can (or will) allow it to.