As a draft marijuana bill works its way through the Alaska Legislature, the Haines Borough and Chamber of Commerce are trying to hash out how legalization will affect the town’s economy, zoning regulations and law enforcement.

Manager David Sosa is recommending the assembly create a task force or assign an existing committee to lead discussions on the issue, including whether marijuana sales and/or production should be allowed to take place in Haines.

“This is a decision that we as a community need to make, and it is important that we begin the public process that will enable us to reach a decision as a community. There are also more mundane and administrative matters that must be addressed if we are to successfully implement the provisions of the law as they are enacted by the state,” Sosa said.

The Chamber of Commerce board is also looking to get in on the discussions, though it hasn’t officially taken a position. President Kyle Gray, vice president Barbara Mulford and executive director Debra Schnabel have been discussing plans to hold a summit or public conversation focusing on the commercial and industrial aspects of legalization.

The chamber isn’t interested in debating the morality of using, selling or growing pot, Mulford said. It’s interested in talking about potential sales tax revenue, job creation and other economic impacts to the borough and business community, she said.

“There’s this argument of morality versus industry, and from the chamber’s perspective, we are really going to focus on the industry side of it,” Mulford said. “From a visitor industry perspective – and this is my own thought on it – if Haines were to be the only port that had a designated use area and allowed it, there could be a huge demand in this effort to get more cruise ships back to Haines.”

At the heart of the discussion of marijuana tourism is how municipalities will define “public place.” The proposition passed by voters last year stipulated marijuana use would be banned in public places, though it didn’t specify what those places are.

If Haines allowed coffee shops or bars where pot use was legal, the town could market that to visitors, Mulford said.

The Juneau assembly last week passed an ordinance defining public places as streets, sidewalks, alleys, trails, parking lots, schools, parks and businesses. It also passed a separate ordinance banning pot smoking in bars, clubs and enclosed spaces where food is sold.

Chamber executive director Schnabel said she would rather the chamber hold public forums on the issue – not the borough assembly. People tend to be intimidated by government, and might feel more comfortable expressing their opinions in a different venue, she said.

Legalization was a citizen initiative that should be driven by the people, Schnabel said. “This is a citizen-driven topic. It is not a government, bureaucratic topic,” she said.

Mulford is tentatively planning an agriculture summit for April 20, which will focus on Haines’ larger agriculture industry as well as the opportunities for growing marijuana. The question will go to the chamber’s board of directors March 6.

“All of this is arguable. There are still some individuals (in the community) and on our board that are very passionately against it,” Mulford said.

Chamber board member Stan Mazeikas said he is not in favor of the chamber getting involved. “I was one of those that was against it, so I’m not looking forward to it,” Mazeikas said.

How the borough and chamber’s efforts might work together or overlap is unclear.

Borough manager Sosa recently directed staff to recommend adjustments to code, including potential zoning, land use and enforcement changes. For example, will marijuana be allowed to be sold only in certain zones, like commercial or industrial zones? How far could a dispensary be from a school? How does personnel policy need to be adjusted to account for driving under the influence, since all employees can drive the borough vehicles?

“It’s going to be a lengthy process,” Sosa said.

Assembly member George Campbell said he opposes bringing marijuana sales and production to Haines, but acknowledged it’s his responsibility to listen to residents and carry out what they want.

“I don’t want it in our community. I don’t want to deal with it. But as an assembly member, the people wanted it,” Campbell said. “Let the people talk. They voted for it and they need to get involved, because if you leave it up to fuddy-duddys like me, I am going to say ‘OK, that’s fine, but you can only have it here and here.’ So let the people get involved with this, because they’re not going to like what I say.”