Following an eviction from its clubhouse at the former Kodiak Bar in downtown Anchorage, the Alaska Cannabis Club is moving forward with plans to open a medical marijuana dispensary on Feb. 24, the day recreational marijuana becomes legalized in Alaska.
Come Feb. 24, “this is the place to get your weed,” said club owner Charlo Greene, whose legal name is Charlene Egbe. Greene gained notoriety after quitting her job as a reporter on-air and revealing herself as the owner of the cannabis club.
But regulators warned that the club’s business plans are dangerous.
The club moved back to its original location on Gambell Street in downtown Anchorage in mid-January, after being evicted from its clubhouse due to lack of insurance.
The current clubhouse, a gray, unmarked building, looks like a small home from the outside. Inside, the living and dining room have been converted into a lounge. On the far wall, a glass case displays pipes, edibles and a spice rack filled with bottles of different cannabis strains. A bedroom in the back has been converted into a small classroom where the club plans to hold educational seminars.
On Feb. 24, the clubhouse will open its doors to all medical marijuana cardholders, Greene said. Alaska’s initiative allows for individuals to give as much as 1 ounce of marijuana to another person, and she is banking on that provision to begin her dispensary. The sale of marijuana remains illegal, however.
“Whoever comes in as a medical patient … (they will) make a donation,” Greene said, and get products in return, up to the 1 ounce allowed by the initiative.
Already stocked in the clubhouse Thursday were a variety of edibles -- brownies, cake pops and other baked goods -- that the club will begin selling on Feb. 24.
Greene’s legal reasoning behind starting the dispensary is that the initiative requires licenses for recreational marijuana businesses, not medical dispensaries. Her club functions as a nonprofit, she says, although it has not filed for nonprofit status. All proceeds are reimbursements for the growers and help the club stay open, she said.
Greene acknowledges that the term “donation” is a matter of semantics when referring to the exchange of money for pot. However, she claims that “donations aren’t mandatory” and the clubhouse is following the letter of the law.
The clubhouse will also begin a “co-op” for its members who are recreational marijuana users, according to Greene. Members will exchange marijuana products between themselves, she said, buying and selling goods.
Here again, Greene insists the club is following the law. “There’s nothing written about co-ops” in state statute, Greene said. “Whenever (the state) roll(s) out with something that says we can’t, then we’ll shift and we won’t.”
The club has secured two attorneys out of state, and is also working with two paralegals in Alaska, she said.
“This is what we’ve been assured is the way that it’ll work,” Greene said, without breaking the law.
Not everyone agrees.
“I would advise somebody absolutely not to do this,” Anchorage criminal defense attorney Lance Wells said of the cannabis club's plan.
The initiative allows individuals to give each other marijuana, but not to set up medical dispensaries, Wells said.
“The courts aren’t stupid,” Wells said of using the term "donations" instead of sales. “You’re just playing word games. I would say you probably don’t have a legal defense.”
Cynthia Franklin, director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which is overseeing implementation of the initiative, expressed frustration regarding Greene’s plans.
“The word ‘medical’ doesn’t magically make it legal,” Franklin said. Businesses need licenses, Franklin said. The state will begin accepting business applications in Feb. 2016, according to the initiative language.
Cannabis is still a controlled substance, Franklin said. Activity that is not specifically covered under the initiative remains illegal. That includes co-ops, Frankin said. “That’s not something that’s specifically allowed.”
In addition, the Legislature continues to introduce bills that will regulate cannabis and could shift the playing field. “You can’t plan now for what the law is going to look like on Feb. 24,” Franklin said.
Franklin said businesses such as Discreet Deliveries, which is delivering marijuana before the initiative even goes into effect, and the cannabis club are giving a bad name to those in the industry who are waiting for the regulatory process to play out.
Greene is “doing a disservice for everyone who is waiting to see what the rules are,” Franklin said. “The voters voted for rules. The voters did not vote for chaos.”
“It’s just sad,” Franklin said.
Greene’s response to criticisms that she’s ruining it for others?
“Get over it. My loyalty lies to my patients,” she said.
Greene says the club has several hundred members, and doubts that the government would spend the time to shut down a medical marijuana dispensary servicing sick people.
“We’re going to do it anyway. And no, I’m not really worried. Not at all,” Greene said.