As the end of the year approaches, Alaska’s marijuana industry is itching to get things rolling – but unfortunately an understaffed group of only 15 people are in charge of trying to license hundreds of applicants – and it’s starting to become more than overwhelming. Not only are individual applicants looking for answers to dozens of questions, but individual municipalities are looking for answers that will help them to create their own regulations before the end of the year – and the problem lies in the fact that there simply aren’t enough people available to answer all of these questions – and some things just don’t have answers yet at all.
“It’s a ton of work,” Daulton Oates said. “We’ve had a lot of pressure with local governments who are trying to figure out how to write their own laws.”
The state’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office previously only had to oversee applicants involved in getting liquor licenses. This time last year they could have sat down for an hour or so with anyone who walked in asking questions on how to get licensed; today that simply isn’t possible. There are 104 applications for marijuana licenses now – everything from cultivation, processing and testing facilities to dispensaries. Currently, around 400 applications have been started in the state’s online system.
“There is a bit of, ‘Drop anything else you’re doing and figure out this one question because we have to have this ready to go to the Assembly,’ or the applicant is ready to sign a lease and they need to know the answer,” said Erika McConnell, marijuana coordinator at the Municipality of Anchorage’s Office of Economic and Community Development. “And so there is a certain type of urgency with the things that come up. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’ll get back to you in two weeks,’ that sort of thing.”
The board only managed to hire an additional two people for the office when they began working on marijuana regulations and licensing – and even though they were hoping for somewhere around 10 people, they may be lucky to have been able to have any new hires at all; the state has reported a drop in about 1400 state government jobs between July 2015 and July 2016. With the extremely limited staff, they have had to require that people go online to find answers to certain questions, rather than taking the time to find the answer personally.
“It’s new to everybody,” Thorp said. “They help you out the best they can. They’re understaffed and they have hundreds of applications.”
It also doesn’t help that each and every business location must be inspected (and in some cases brought up to code) before they can be licensed. Some people are trying to open businesses in places that are unusual, such as warehouses, which has been a bit of a problem for the offices as well. This generally requires a lot more attention on the part of those issuing licenses as most people have never been through that kind of process before.
The good news is that things are rolling – and about as fast as the overworked staff can manage. It’s unfortunate that it’s taking longer than it was all expected to, the start of a new industry is always difficult – but after the initial year or so, things will likely run a lot smoother.