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Marijuana Shop Creates Chasm in Alaska Tourist Town

August 30, 2017
(mixmotive/iStock)
TALKEETNA, Alaska (AP) — The presence of a marijuana retail store has caused a deep divide in this quirky tourist town, where hundreds of visitors roam the streets daily browsing in art galleries and souvenir shops housed in historic cabins.

Most of Talkeetna’s stores line the two long blocks that make up its Main Street, where tourists — many who arrive in Alaska on cruise ships and are bused about two hours north from Anchorage — wander into storefronts like Nagley’s General Store for ice cream or slip through its back door for a cold one at the West Rib Bar and Grill.

At Main Street’s opposite end, near a river park where visitors snap photos of the continent’s largest mountain, is Talkeetna’s newest venture into the tourism trade. The High Expedition Co. is a nod to the rich mountain climbing history of the eclectic community purported to be the inspiration for the 1990s television series “Northern Exposure.”

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Talkeetna’s first marijuana retail store is causing a rift not seen in other tourist-dependent towns in this Libertarian-leaning state, where marijuana had a casual acceptance long before it became legal. But even here, like in many cannabis-legal states, some towns have opted out of sales, fearful it might invite crime and other evils.

In Talkeetna, some shop owners — the ones who built a multimillion-dollar business from the steady stream of mountain climbers who use Talkeetna as a staging point for treks up Denali — say this one shop could ruin the tiny town’s historic atmosphere and harm business like the eight or so stores that serve alcohol along Main Street could never do.

“I don’t think he belongs in downtown Talkeetna,” Meandering Moose B&B owner Mike Stoltz said.

Joe McAneney co-owns the High Expedition Co., which opened in mid-May. “The sky hasn’t fallen on Talkeetna, the sun is shining, and this is now the most photographed shop in town,” he said.

Grabbing the attention of amateur shutterbugs is a small “Cannabis Purveyors” wooden sign on the store’s deck.

McAneney has been working to open the shop nearly since the day in 2014 that Alaska residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana. He and a partner bought the cabin that was originally built for Ray Genet, an early Talkeetna climber and guide who died in 1979 on Mount Everest. McAneney worked with Genet’s family and has incorporated a small museum dedicated to Genet and Talkeetna’s climbing history. But even that association led to some disdain.

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“Small towns in Alaska are harder than anywhere to break into and sort of become accepted,” McAneney said.

His store got its approval from the borough on a technicality when the assembly was writing regulations for marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas, like Talkeetna, and inadvertently omitted special land use districts — like the town’s Main Street. Talkeetna has no local governing body, only a nonvoting community council whose sole power is sending recommendations to borough officials roughly 75 miles (120 kilometers) away.

State regulators approved the store’s permit on a 3-2 vote last spring.

“There’s people that are upset about it, but it’s legal,” said Sue Deyoe, the Talkeetna Historical Society and Museum’s executive director.

“Are we going to take the law into our own hands? Duct-tape him?”
Mike Stoltz, Meandering Moose B&B owner

Opposition mounted as the issue went before state regulators, where a stream of residents unsuccessfully called in to the Anchorage meeting to oppose the store’s license.

Among the biggest issue for critics is the lack of places for tourists to puff the marijuana they buy. Smoking cannabis in public is illegal, and that led to fears the nearby river park would become the place to partake.

Alaska State Troopers say there were no citations issued for anyone consuming marijuana in public in Talkeetna from April 1 to July 1, the same as last year.

But opponents argue Talkeetna is lawless, with the closest trooper an hour away. “What are we supposed to do?” asked Stoltz, the bed and breakfast owner. “Are we going to take the law into our own hands? Duct-tape him?”

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Stoltz said the very presence of a cannabis store will harm business in the historic town, where residents make a year’s living between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

“If we lose our tourism, we lose what Talkeetna is,” he said. “We’re not catering to stoner tourists. To me, that’s the conflict with Joe.”

Seeing a cannabis shop on Talkeetna’s main drag didn’t bother 65-year-old Jeff White, visiting from the Louisville, Kentucky, area.

Talkeetna has the artsy feel of a tourist town in Colorado, which also has legal marijuana, he said. “This goes with that vibe, and I think that’s fine.”

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One resident dismisses the idea that the store is giving Talkeetna a black eye. But it is dividing the town, Christie Stoltz said, noting the chasm has reached her home. She’s the daughter of Mike Stoltz, the B&B owner.

“I feel like it’s generations — the older generation versus the younger generation,” she said.

For some, marijuana was never an issue, Deyoe said, and it pales in comparison to a controversy last spring when the borough proposed leveling trees over an area about the size of eight football fields for an expanded parking lot for summer use.

“I think the community council got way more letters on that than they did in reaction to the marijuana shop,” she said.

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  • Long live the Queen

    The borrough is corrupt. They are approving things that shouldn’t be approved. They allowed a marijuana farm in a residential area without a wastewater plan or the fire Marshall approving of their fire safety plan. They are tax hungry buggers whom I hope get run over by a pot head!

    • Captain Jim

      Why shouldn’t it be approved? Cannabis was made illegal in the 30’s due to racism and economic greed, not because of any real harm it posed. It never should have been outlawed in the first place.

      If prohibition didn’t exist, there would be no need for marijuana farms in the middle of residential areas. Cannabis grows rather well all over the place. Prohibition causes yet another problem.

      I seriously doubt a so called “pothead” (prejudice) is going to harm anyone who they run over in their car driving cautiously at the speed limit as opposed to a drunk driving 100 the wrong way. Are you aware that states with medical marijuana laws see on avg. an 11% decrease in traffic fatalities according to a carefully controlled large scale study?

      http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-marijuana-traffic-death-idUSKBN14H1LQ

      All your bickering just sounds like a bunch of sour grapes to me.

    • Jeff Johnson

      Potheads are gonna run over EVERYBODY in your town! It’s what they do!!! LOL

      • lovingc

        Your ignorance is showing.

      • Mike Jager

        Your ignorance is amazing,did your mom have any kids that lived?

    • Captain Jim

      “The borrough is corrupt. They are approving things that shouldn’t be approved. ”

      Cannabis was made illegal in the 30’s due to racism and economic greed. It never should have been made illegal in the first place. Perhaps you need a history lesson on the topic?

      “They allowed a marijuana farm in a residential area without a wastewater plan or the fire Marshall approving of their fire safety plan. ”

      Well, cannabis grows rather well almost anywhere, so if it were legal, there would be no need to have a farm in the middle of a residential area. Again, this is a problem caused by prohibition of cannabis.

      “They are tax hungry buggers whom I hope get run over by a pot head!”

      LMAO, you mean a so called “pothead” (prejudice) driving the speed limit vs. a drunk driving 100 the wrong way on the highway? Are you aware states with medical marijuana laws see on avg. an 11% decrease in traffic fatalities according to a large scale carefully controllled study? What’s your goal, more people dying out there on the roads or less? Does the term “harm reduction”mean anything to you?

      All your bickering just sounds like a bunch of sour grapes from a hater to me. Why not hate on booze which kills some 80,000 Americans per year or tobacco which kills some 300,000 Americans per year?

  • Jim Jackson

    I have a mountain climbing friend that told me that a lot of climbers enjoy a hit or two at the summit of a climb (imagine being high and getting a spectacular view). Sounds like this cannabis thing will fit right in at Talkeetna.

  • AKcharle

    Where did these so called “Alaskans” come from, Kansas? Alaska has a very long history of being (in our eyes) the marijuana capital of the world. Due to the lack of adequate police supervision true Alaskans have been buying, selling, and smoking for as long as I’ve been here which is over 60 years. I remember when it first came to my high school, we were like curious puppies investigating a new thing. We didn’t end up having to be duck taped in order to be contained, heck, nobody but us even knew about it. Talkeetna needs to chill before their economic greed becomes obvious to tourists and ruins their town and business. Notice Alaskans don’t go to Talkeetna, we see it as nothing more than a tourist trap. Nothing real about it.