First Recreational Cannabis Shops Open in Anchorage This Month

Anchorage, Alaska’s most populous city, will finally see its first retail marijuana shops open for business on December 17.

The state’s first dispensary opened October 29 in Valdez, nearly two years after Alaskans voted to legalize recreational cannabis sales. Dispensaries have been popping up around Alaska, but unlike other cities, Anchorage requires marijuana business applications to be certified by the state.

So far, only a few of dispensaries have passed final inspections and received the go-ahead from the state. One of the biggest hurdles for dispensary owners has been meeting building compliance codes. Under Alaska’s so-called “Title 21” rules, properties going through a change of use must be physically improved to meet modern standards.

“We have to come up to compliance, and it’s costing a lot of money to make sure that we have enough parking, snow removal, gates around our dumpsters and those kinds of things,” Jane Stinson, co-owner of Enlighten Alaska, told the Alaska Public Radio Network.

Erika McConnell, marijuana coordinator with the Municipality of Anchorage, isn’t blind to the difficulties facing business owners looking to open marijuana shops.

“I certainly have compassion for people who are pouring their life savings into opening their business,” McConnell said. “We are trying our best to keep the process moving and resolve any issues without putting up road blocks.”

“They can’t get finances from banks, can’t get investments from out of state, from larger companies, (so) they presumably don’t have very much capital available to them,” McConnell said. “So they have to look for these properties that are older, or vacant or less well-kept-up.”

A handful of retail pot shops are opening throughout the month, with more expected next year.