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Homer Considers April Marijuana 'Redo' Vote

Image Courtesy of the City of Homer
City of Homer

Homer City Council could hold a redo vote on commercial cannabis in a special election this spring even though voters already cast ballots on a statewide ballot initiative that legalized it in 2014. They made the decision at Monday night’s Homer City Council meeting.

Once again, there was a large turnout at Monday night’s Homer City Council meeting where several cannabis ordinances were on the agenda.

The Council heard testimony from about a dozen people on an ordinance that would have banned commercial cannabis in the city, which was originally introduced by Council Members Heath Smith and Gus Van Dyke.

Christin Fankhauser, who said she works as a social worker with the Salvation Army, was one of the few who spoke out in support of banning commercial cannabis in Homer.

“The Salvation Army openly condemns the deliberate misuse of any drugs and believes that total abstinence is the only guarantee against overindulgence and the adverse effects of addiction. The Salvation Army continues to offer treatment to the victims of addictions, realizing that such practices stem from deep emotional spiritual problems and are particularly common in young persons,” said Fankhauser.

But mostly, it was a lot more of what the council had already heard at their previous meeting. A lot about the benefits of medicinal marijuana, how illegal cultivation has been going on in Homer for a long time, how the city could benefit from taxing it, and how the people had already spoken through the statewide voter initiative with some of the highest voter turnout in years.

Communities across the state have been crafting local regulations since the state legalized recreational use of marijuana through a statewide voter initiative in November 2014. The Cities of Wassilla and Palmer have already banned marijuana businesses.

Rebecca Jones, a resident of Kachemak City said she did not use marijuana, but that she supports commercial cannabis, locally, because of  witnessing the violence that illegal marijuana trafficking creates along the U.S. - Mexico border and its impact on the people living there.

“They are forced into being the mules who are carrying it across the border and if they are caught, their families are destroyed. I saw videos where women were dismembered and left to bleed to death in restrooms where they were beheaded. The violence over marijuana is extraordinary,” said Jones.

Most did not support the ordinance to completely ban commercial cannabis in Homer. It failed due to lack of a second.
Next the Council heard from about a half-dozen people testifying on reconsideration of ordinance 16-04 concerning cannabis zoning in rural residential areas in Homer. It was much of the same.
The council decided to reject a previously approved amendment to ordinance 16-04 that had added limited cultivation in rural residential zones. The Council did then pass the commercial cannabis zoning ordinance but it does not include cultivation in rural residential zoning areas. However, a line in the ordinance makes the passage contingent on commercial cannabis being approved in a city election.
Additionally, the council voted to consider a new ordinance introduced by Mayor Beth Wythe that would require a city vote on whether to ban commercial cannabis. Council member David Lewis amended that ordinance so that the vote would happen during a special election in April.
“The people who had voted for the commercialization of cannabis deserve to have a vote as soon as possible,” said Lewis.

Catriona Reynolds argued against holding a special election, saying it would be redundant and costly.

“I do think the voters have already spoken on this. I don’t think there'll be any problem passing this, I just don’t think we need to go through the expense of an election. I’ve heard people speaking in favor of a vote saying they think it’s going to create less division in the community and I think it’s just going to prolong it that much longer and that we’ll be having campaigning that much longer, for and against,” said Reynolds.

The Council voted to introduce the redo vote ordinance, 3 to 3. Mayor Wythe broke the tie setting a special election on the issue for April 19th. She explained why.

“Six people and the Mayor should not necessarily be the people making this decision for you. I think ultimately you voted for the state election. I get that. I have, all my career on this council for twelve years, been a staunch supporter of voter initiative. This is just one of those issues that for me – I just see it coming right back at us. It’s just not going to be a good thing. I personally do not want to be the person making that decision because if I’m making that decision, my position is probably going to be no,” said Wythe.

The Council did pass a commercial cannabis zoning ordinance but it does not include limited cultivation in rural residential zoning areas. However, a line in the ordinance makes the passage contingent in commercial cannabis being approved in a city election.

The Council also voted on an ordinance that would ban driving on some beaches. But before voting, they amended the area where driving will not be allowed. Driving will be banned from the South End of Mariner Park to the East end of the Sea Wall, with one exception – driving will be allowed during the winter coal gathering season from October to March.

In addition, the Council passed a resolution that supports funding through bonding for the new police station phase (Option 3) of the public safety building, not to exceed $12M. The council will need to introduce and approve an ordinance to place a bonding question on a city ballot.

There will be a final reading of the ordinance that would create a special election on whether Homer should allow commercial cannabis at the next Homer City Council meeting on March 14th. 

Editor's Note: Tuesday, February 23rd, Council Member Catriona Reynolds called for reconsideration on the marijuana zoning ordinance, in part because the motion used an incorrect ordinance title. This will also provide opportunity to amend the language about the possibility of an election. A previous version of this story incorrectly said that the City Council passed an ordinance supporting funding through bonding for a public safety building. It was actually a resolution. In addition, a previous version of this story incorrectly stated the date of the next Homer City Council Meeting. The next Homer City Council meeting is scheduled for March 14th.