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Former Head of Alaska Marijuana Board Booted by Governor

August 2, 2016

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The former chairman of the board tasked with regulating Alaska's nascent marijuana industry has been removed by Gov. Bill Walker.

Bruce Schulte was ousted from the Marijuana Control Board on Friday.

Grace Jang, a Walker spokeswoman, said Tuesday that board members serve at the governor's discretion and Walker decided it was time for a change.

She said Schulte's approach to staff and the administrative process was "less than satisfactory." She said she could not elaborate.

Schulte was appointed to the board in July 2015 as one of two industry representatives and served as board chairman until June, when he was replaced in that role.

Schulte said Walker deputy chief of staff John Hozey left him a voicemail Friday saying he was out and he got a follow-up letter saying the same thing. However, Schulte said he wasn't given a reason for his removal and Hozey didn't respond to his inquiries.

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Jang said Hozey was traveling with Walker on Tuesday and would offer the same explanation that Jang gave The Associated Press.

Schulte said he believes there has been a concerted effort to change the makeup of the board for months, driven by an agenda to keep the industry on a short leash. He noted as an example his concerns with certain proposed testing requirements.

Jang said some people have expressed concerns with the speed with which some aspects of the industry are moving. She said some of the concerns have involved the potential for Alaska to have cannabis cafes. Walker takes all concerns and complaints seriously but is comfortable overall with the board's direction, she said.

At a recent meeting, board member Mark Springer expressed concerns with a proposed rule to allow onsite consumption of marijuana bought at authorized stores. Springer, who is often a swing vote on the panel, said the initial discussion over onsite use had gone from providing a place for tourists off of cruise ships to buy and use legal marijuana toward allowing for marijuana bars.

The board is seeking public comment on a revised proposal that would allow people to buy marijuana products in an authorized store and go into a separate area of the store to partake. They would be allowed to take resealed unused portions home with them.

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Schulte has supported allowing some form of onsite consumption.

Schulte also said he butted heads with the director of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, Cynthia Franklin.

In response to Schulte's comments, Franklin released a statement outlining board's achievements so far, including creating an electronic application process, maintaining a detailed website and approving 49 licenses within a year of the board's formation. The board began approving license applications in June.

Franklin also said the board has successfully met its statutory deadlines.

At the June board meeting, a member of the board's staff who announced his resignation began to launch into Schulte before being stopped. Schulte said he didn't know what prompted the outburst.

Jang said the goal is to have a new board member in place before the September board meeting.

The law setting up the board called for initial appointments of two people with experience in the marijuana industry. Those seats went to Schulte and Brandon Emmett.

After those initial appointments, the law allows for one of those seats to be filled by a member of the general public or someone actively involved in the industry.

Schulte said he also stepped down from a marijuana industry trade group because he didn't want any blowback from his comments to affect the business prospects of others associated with the organization.

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