Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA), cannabis usage and possession in the United States are illegal. While this law remains valid at the federal level, most states in the U.S have legalized cannabis consumption and sale for medical and recreational usage. In 2014, the state of Alaska became one of the earliest states to legalize cannabis — a step in the right direction even though some legislative frameworks seem stringent.
The Alaska cannabis laws apply to every party involved in the circulation of marijuana, from growth to consumption — producers, sellers and distributors within the Alaska state boundaries. As a cannabis dispensary, understanding the cannabis legislation and the protection it offers you against non-compliance is a must. Not only does this help shorten your business growth curve, but it also makes navigating the tangle of compliance acts easier.
While legally regulating cannabis use and distribution are excellent for the development of the cannabis industry in Alaska, it can also stifle upstarts with little to no experience in the industry. However, with enough knowledge and legal expertise at your fingertips, you can avoid making wrong turns that can derail your enterprise's growth or success. Easier access to legal advice related to contracts, employment and taxes is an advantage of awareness.
Benzinga looks at the cannabis dispensary law in Alaska.
Alaska Cannabis Dispensary Laws at a Glance
Marijuana or cannabis is legal for both medical and recreational use in Alaska. Alaska became the third state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana for recreational use when it was formally approved in 2014. While Alaska has relaxed the reins of legal marijuana consumption, its laws clearly state how cannabis dispensaries should sell or distribute the drug.
The fundamental laws guiding the compliance of cannabis dispensaries in Alaska are:
Law #1 Retail Dispensary Privileges
The retail dispensary privileges authorize cannabis dispensaries only to sell cannabis procured from licensed marijuana cultivation sites or growers. They are required to package and label the drug according to legal standards. Cannabis retail stores are also permitted to store cannabis products on licensed premises. It allows the consumption of cannabis products in a designated area of the licensed premises. Sellers can choose not to sell cannabis to a consumer. A licensed retail store can also apply for a cultivation facility, product manufacturing license or both.
Furthermore, cannabis dispensaries cannot, under this law, sell marijuana or derivative products to consumers below 21 years old or individuals under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances. They may only sell cannabis to a physically present consumer at the retail location, which means that cannabis delivery is not permitted. Dispensaries cannot give away cannabis or other marijuana products for free. Additionally, the law forbids consumers from entering the dispensary from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. Finally, this law prohibits a cannabis dispensary from selling a product post expiration date as indicated on the package label.
Law #2 Packaging and Labeling
The legislative instructions contained in this law direct that cannabis packaging must be opaque, resealable and child-resistant. Dispensaries may only sell appropriately labeled and packaged cannabis. This label must include the dispensary brand name or logo, the marijuana business license number and the product's estimated THC content. The label must also have the following statements:
- "Marijuana impairs concentration, coordination and judgment. Do not operate a vehicle or machinery under its influence."
- "For use only by adults twenty-one and older. Keep out of the reach of children."
- "Marijuana has intoxicating effects and may be habit-forming and addictive."
- "There are health risks associated with consumption of marijuana."
- "Marijuana should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.”
Law #3 Consumer Purchase Limits
This law stipulates the legal purchase limits for individual consumers daily under sections 3 AAC 3016.355 and 3 AAC 306.370. It makes it clear that dispensaries are prohibited from selling more than one ounce of marijuana, seven grams of inhalable cannabis concentrate or 5,600 milligrams of THC in combined sales of cannabis and cannabis products.
Law #4: Taxes
This law deals with taxes on the sale and distribution of products and its derivatives, giving the state of Alaska the right to levy taxes on cannabis sold within its boundaries. Dispensaries accrue tax when they acquire products from cultivators or cultivation facilities. Taxes on mature buds and flowers are $50 per ounce, immature buds at $25 an ounce, trim at $15 an ounce and clones at $1 an ounce.
Although there are no statewide excise taxes in Alaska, there are local excise taxes in some municipalities. In Anchorage, the retail sale of marijuana and marijuana-related products is subject to a 5% sales tax.
Law #5: Dispensary Obligations for Consumer Notices
This law stipulates that retail stores MUST paste the following notices where customers can easily see them within the premises.
- "Providing marijuana to persons under 21 years of age is prohibited by law."
- "Consumption of marijuana in public is prohibited by law."
- "Transportation or shipment of marijuana or marijuana products outside the State of Alaska is prohibited by federal law."
- "Transportation or carriage of marijuana or marijuana products on Alaska waterways, including cruise ships, or by air carrier is prohibited by federal law."
These notices must be printed in a color that contrasts with the background and in a font at least 1/2 inch tall. The signs must be at least 11 by 14 inches in size.
Best Cannabis Dispensary Law Firms in Alaska
From litigation protection to legal counsel and business planning, your cannabis lawyer can be the difference between the failure and success of your dispensary in the very complicated Alaskan legal climate. Here are some of the best cannabis dispensary law firms across Alaska.
Headed by Jana Weltzin, a native medical and recreational marijuana business law expert, JDW Counsel is one of the best cannabis dispensary law firms in the state. Physically located in Anchorage, JDW Counsel is home to many cannabis law experts. Since its inception, JDW has been a recipient of many illustrious awards like the Top 40 under 40 Marijuana Venture Magazine 2017, the 2020 Global Top 200 Cannabis Lawyers and the ACQ Law Awards 2019
The law firm provides legal services, including consultancy on marijuana license applications for medical and recreational use. Additionally, the firm provides expert advisory on hemp law within the state that covers legal consultation for individuals or entities looking to establish, invest in, purchase or expand an industrial marijuana business.
Besides legal counsel and guidance, JDW counsel comprehensively caters to clients' organizational needs, including contracts and terms of employment. JDW counsel's office hours are between 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday - Friday. The firm doesn't open on weekends.
Denali Law Group
With an illustrious history that stretches back over 75 years, the Denali Law Group is a top-rated cannabis lawyer statewide. The law firm is home to several former prosecutors, highlighting its authority in Alaska's legal society. Richard K. Payne, a senior partner at the law firm, is a recipient of the top 200 cannabis lawyers global, the 20/21 edition. Denali offers high-quality and individualized counsel to ensure optimal client dedication.
Denali Law Group offers business law services on all matters about the distribution of cannabis in Alaska. Contracts, business integration and non-compliance liabilities are all under the firm's jurisdiction. In the case of a criminal offense related to cannabis DUIs or related offenses, Denali Law provides 100% dedicated legal counsel and guidance.
The firm has physical locations in Anchorage, Wasilla and Palmer. Denali Law Group office hours are between 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Monday - Friday. The firm doesn't open on weekends.
Carlson Law Group, LLC
Headed by the award-winning principal and founder Bradley A. Carlson, Carlson Law prides itself as a cost-effective, technology-based and technology-driven modern law firm. The firm's core philosophy is cost-effectiveness and timeliness. With Carlson Law, you can easily set up an appointment without hassle and on your terms. The firm provides highly personalized legal services that seek to understand clients' needs as much as possible.
Carlson Law specializes in business and licensing solutions relative to cannabis law, employment and contracting and general practice. Over the years, Carlson Law has distinguished itself as a top-class law firm locally and nationally with awards and achievements like the Nation's Premier Top 10 2020 ranking. The firm also ranks among the Attorney and Practice Magazine's criminal defense Top 10 attorneys.
How to Choose a Cannabis Law Firm
Choosing a cannabis law firm for your dispensary can be a tricky affair. Benzinga's guide can help you make an informed choice.
Step #1: Identify Your Legal Needs
Before starting your hunt for an attorney, you'll have to determine your legal needs. You might consider answering the following questions;
- What kind of legal counsel or guidance will I need to prevent potential liabilities concerning employment, contracts, laws, taxes and other pertinent areas?
- Do I need help acquiring more funds, buying or renting business property or managing my current debts or assets?
- What are the operational gaps or difficulties that my cannabis firm/dispensary will (or already has) to deal with?
- What do I hope to accomplish with my company over the next five to ten years?
Step #2: Do Your Research
After you've identified your legal needs, the next step will be conducting research. You can start by talking to someone you trust on legal matters, like a former friend or colleague practicing lawyer. That way, getting a referral will be easier for you. Since you already know what type of assistance your business requires, you can also go online to search for firms that provide legal services that align with your needs
Step #3: Set Up a Meeting with Your Potential Attorney
Reading up on a potential attorney online can only take you so far. It'd be best to set up an initial consultation, physically or virtually. A meeting will allow you to discuss your needs and what the attorney can offer you. Ensure you don't get charged for this initial consultation before moving forward. Finally, as a rule, ensure that you meet up with at least three lawyers before you make your choice. Don't rush to settle for the first lawyer you talk to.
Step #4: Weigh Your Options and Take Your Pick
Once you have assessed your various options, take your pick. Some red flags can help you narrow down your choice. For example, if a potential selection appears to be always busy, takes too long to handle requests or prioritizes expensive lawsuits, avoid them and their firm.
Highlight the pros and cons of each lawyer depending on your interaction with them during your meetings. Add other underlying factors like cost and experience. You are on track to making the best decision for your dispensary
How to Legally Buy Cannabis in Alaska
As long as you are at least 21 years old, you are permitted by law to purchase cannabis from a licensed retail outlet in Alaska. Let's take a look at how you can legally buy cannabis in Alaska:
Step #1: Locate a Licensed Dispensary
To stay compliant, before you walk or drive to a cannabis retail outlet, ensure that it is licensed to operate in the state of Alaska. A quick search on Google will give you access to a list of licensed dispensaries. You can then continue your due diligence from here.
Step #2: Provide a Valid ID
On getting to your chosen dispensary, you'll be required to provide a valid ID that shows you are eligible to buy your own cannabis. Stores typically do ID checks twice — before attending and post payment.
Step #3: Pick Your Buds and Complete the Payment
Depending on your store type, you can purchase prepackaged buds or pick your bud and have it packaged on the spot. Some dispensaries also offer online menus, but delivery is illegal in Alaska. So you'll still have to pay physically. Stores mainly accept cash payments. It's best to go prepared with cash. There’s usually an ATM available for customer use at a small fee.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is recreational cannabis legal in Alaska?
Yes, Alaska legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2014.
How much cannabis can I purchase in Alaska?
Only 1 ounce, 7 grams of marijuana concentrate for inhalation or a total of 5,600 milligrams of THC can be purchased from marijuana dispensaries.
What do you need to purchase cannabis in a cannabis store?
Any legitimate government-issued identity document verifying your age over 21 from anywhere in the world is all you need.