The legal opinion does not apply to licensed retail cannabis shops, for which state regulators are considering rules allowing cannabis consumption. The first retail shop licenses have yet to be approved.
At issue are clubs that charge fees for patrons to use cannabis onsite or that otherwise provide access to a significant number of people to consume cannabis there. Those are illegal, according to the opinion by Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth.
“Under Alaska law, a business cannot sell or provide marijuana or allow marijuana to be consumed on the premises unless it is licensed as a retail cannabis store by the Marijuana Control Board,” Lindemuth wrote.
Voters in 2014 approved legalizing recreational cannabis for those 21 and older in Alaska. The initiative banned consuming in public, though the board, which regulates the industry, last year approved a carve-out to allow for onsite use at authorized retail shops.
Unlicensed social clubs are public places that, like other businesses, fall under the prohibition of public consumption, Lindemuth said.
The opinion was requested by the state commerce commissioner. The state’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office falls under the commerce department.
The office’s director, Cynthia Franklin, said by email that the office was aware of five or six clubs in Alaska.
The commerce department said marijuana regulators lack the authority to license social clubs and would work with local law enforcement to address illegal cannabis use. The department said local governments could use their powers to crack down on illegal clubs.
Cary Carrigan, executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, called it another bump as the industry gets set up. But he said he doesn’t think it will be a major sticking point into the future.
“I think that we’ll slowly answer all of these questions as we move forward,” Carrigan said, adding later: “It’s just a matter of how fast do you want to address it, and do you want to send a temperance league out in the meantime?”