Local cannabis industry flying high, challenges remain

Aug 4, 2017

The Kenai Peninsula’s cannabis industry seems to be swinging into high gear, though some challenges remain for local marijuana business owners.

Leif Abel is an owner of Greatland Ganja in Kasilof, and he’s been at the forefront of the nascent industry. He says attitudes about the drug are changing.

“We’ve got about a year under our belt here on the Kenai Peninsula of operating cannabis businesses. The proverbial sky hasn’t fallen. There hasn’t been a whole lot of negative fallout. To the contrary, I would argue that we’ve seen a lot of positivity. We can point to many of these things, whether they be a couple hundred jobs that are really nice to have, between 20 and 30-something businesses that are operating or in the licensing phase. These sort of numbers show that, obviously, attitudes are changing.”

Patricia Patterson owns High Bush Buds just outside of Soldotna. She says the Kenai and the state of Alaska, in general, offer a solid foundation for this kind of industry. She says she’s seeing people getting into cannabis after having been in some of the area’s other, more-prominent industries.

“Many of our current cultivators are ex-oil field (workers). Some of those jobs have been a bit insecure. They have moved over into something that they can make their land pay off. And that is an amazing thing to say to anybody down here is that you can own land, own your house, build a shop and within the strict regulations, actually make money off your land and support your family. I think that’s viable to our economy because our cornerstone on the Kenai Peninsula has been the small business owner.”

Locally, the industry anticipates it will have created about 150 to 200 new jobs by year’s end. The new businesses, according to surveys conducted by the industry, have spent roughly $5 million dollars to get off the ground.

 

Sales taxes on cannabis — which, in the Kenai, go to support local education — are expected to put close to $300,000 in school coffers annually. But challenges remain. Not least of which is the federal stance on pot, which makes it more difficult for these businesses to handle finances, since everything must be dealt with in cash.

 

Locally, a ballot proposition this fall could put the brakes on every cannabis business in the borough, leaving just one retail store within the Kenai city limits. Patterson says the important thing to think about concerning the vote this fall is not whether marijuana should remain legal — that question has already been answered. Rather, should the money that will inevitably be spent on pot support local institutions, like schools.

“The only thing this vote does is say, ‘Do you want to put it back into the black market hands or do you want to keep it as a legal business here on the Kenai Peninsula?' The biggest thing I would ask people when they look at the vote is try to look at it from a business standpoint, because marijuana is not going to go away.”

Patterson and Abel made their comments on the most recent edition of the Kenai Conversation, the full version of which you can hear at http://kdll.org/post/kenai-conversation-budding-industry-cannabis-kenai.