Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:
July 2, 2015
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Governor makes good picks to craft state policy for now-legal drug
The state of Alaska now has its first Marijuana Control Board. Selected by Gov. Bill Walker and announced on Wednesday, the initial board members will face a weighty task: charting a course to commercial permitting and regulation of retail marijuana sales. Given the magnitude of their responsibility, it's a good thing the marijuana board has as much time to draw up policy as it does.
Some of the five initial selections to the board will be familiar to those who pay attention to local government or state action on the marijuana issue so far. In particular, the two seats on the board allocated to representatives of the marijuana industry will be filled by the two figures most prominent in the legalization campaign and legislative process.
Brandon Emmett, of Fairbanks, is the executive director of the nonprofit Center for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, which was active in promoting marijuana legalization during 2014's ballot initiative campaign. And Bruce Schulte, of Anchorage, was the marijuana industry's representative in Juneau. Mr. Schulte helped explain the practicalities of legal marijuana to legislators debating law changes and argued against what he saw as attempts to thwart the will of voters in making the drug legal.
The other three seats on the board will be filled by representatives of the public health, public safety and rural communities. Loren Jones is a Juneau Borough Assembly member who has served as director of the state Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. Peter Mlynarik is Soldotna's chief of police. And Mark Springer sits on the Bethel City Council. All three will have valuable experience and insight that will help inform the board's decisions as it weighs its options on commercial marijuana.
The structure of the board is well crafted and, given its makeup, is likely to ensure state residents' perspectives on the marijuana issue are represented in the determination of policy and regulation. The marijuana industry's two seats for the coming year will ensure the voices of the majority of Alaskans who voted in favor of legalization are represented.
At the same time, those likely to be dealing with some of the negative consequences of the drug's legal status — law enforcement, health professionals and rural residents (who are sometimes short on both of the former) — will also have a seat at the table to make sure implementation of marijuana regulations protects residents from as many pitfalls as possible.
There's a knock to be made against the governor's selections. While all of those selected are well qualified, they're also all men. This is likely partly the consequence of the makeup of those who applied — out of 132 applicants for the board, only about one-fourth were women. But among the roughly 30 female candidates, some were well qualified, would have served the state well and also added additional perspective to the group. It will be something for Gov. Walker to keep in mind when making future selections.
The members of the marijuana control board have their work cut out for them. Between now and Nov. 24, the group must draft and approve all of the state's policy for dealing with retail marijuana growing, marketing and sale. By February 2016, they will begin accepting license applications for commercial marijuana operators, and by May 2016 those licenses will be issued and the full breadth of marijuana legalization in Alaska will be in effect.
It's going to be a tough job, but those in the newly filled board seats volunteered for it. Their first meeting will take place in Fairbanks this morning — there's no time to waste.
July 3, 2015
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: New leadership making strides to repair troubled organization's reputation
In mid-June, the recently appointed leader of the Alaska National Guard delivered a mea culpa. In a column submitted to the News-Miner and other media outlets around the state, Brig. Gen. Laurie Hummel announced the findings of retired Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins, who had been retained by the state to investigate improper actions in the Guard. She apologized for abuses committed by former Guard members and spelled out steps the Guard would take to ensure they didn't happen again. The Alaska National Guard has much ground to cover in regaining Alaskans' trust, but Brig. Gen. Hummel's explanation of where things stand was an excellent way to start.
Though reports of misdeeds in the Guard date back to the mid-2000s, reports of abuses were first brought to state government officials in late 2010. From that period until late 2013, several who came forward to those in the Guard chain of command — or, failing that, to elected officials in the Legislature or staff in the state's executive branch — were frustrated as serious claims of sexual harassment and assault didn't result in meaningful action inside or outside the Guard. In some cases, those reporting abuse say they suffered consequences themselves because word leaked through the chain of command to their alleged abusers about their reports.
In 2014, a raft of military prosecutions followed by an exhaustive investigation by the National Guard Bureau's Office of Complex Investigations finally brought to light the serious issues within the service. The revelations about the depth and severity of misdeeds in the Guard's command structure led to the removal of then-Adjutant Gen. Thomas Katkus and Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs McHugh Pierre.
Since Gov. Bill Walker and the Legislature began reforms to the Guard this year, there has been a multi-pronged effort to fix what was broken. The installation of a provost marshal for the organization is an attempt to ensure crimes committed within the Guard are handled by the appropriate law enforcement agency rather than being lost in limbo between civilian and military law enforcement. The governor's office and the Legislature have also been coordinating reforms to the Alaska Code of Military Justice to guard against abuses within the chain of command.
The problems of the Alaska National Guard were widespread and serious, but so far, Brig. Gen. Hummel has been forthright in acknowledging past issues and the steps being taken to correct them. It may take years to rebuild the Guard's reputation and credibility, during which time it's essential that reforms now underway be taken seriously and carried through to completion. Crucially, any further issues of systemic problems in the organization must be made public and dealt with promptly to avoid further damage to how Alaskans both inside and outside the service view the Guard.
The Alaska National Guard has a long way to go, but it also has a storied history and reputation from generations past that it should strive to recapture. It's not too late for the organization to make Alaskans proud once again.