Juneau physician secures three licenses for cannabis operation

Editor’s note: The story has been updated with a correction from Dr. Perez’s attorney Jana Weltzin about her statements to the board on whether Perez has ever issued a prescription for medical marijuana. Weltzin stated incorrectly that Perez had never written a prescription for medical marijuana, which has been legal in Alaska since 1998. In fact Perez told the board in response to questions that he’d issued “a handful” of medical marijuana prescriptions over the past 10 years in accordance with current Alaska regulations. Weltzin’s incorrect statement has been removed from the article and she provided the following statement from her client: “Mr. Perez understands that Alaska has two statues for the use of marijuana. He has the full intention to follow both guidelines as described by state regulations.”

Dr. Norvin Perez, a medical physician at the Juneau Urgent and Family Care Center, was approved for three marijuana business licenses during the board’s two November meetings in Anchorage.

All three — cultivation, manufacture and retail — will all be housed under the same roof in a building Perez owns. It is the same building that holds the Juneau Urgent and Family Care Center in an industrial-commercial zone of Juneau called Old Dairy Road.

The application was unique, noted Marijuana Control Board Member Loren Jones, also of Juneau, because it’s the first time the board has licensed a practicing physician for multiple marijuana operations.

“It’s a very unusual situation where he is a doctor at Juneau Urgent Care and he will own the marijuana businesses in the same building,” Jones told fellow board members.

There’s inherent tension between Alaska’s medical marijuana laws outlined in Alaska Statute 17.37 and the new recreational marijuana laws, outlined in AS 17.38. The primary one — at least for board members asking Perez questions while scrutinizing his application — is that business owners are prohibited from written and advertised claims about marijuana’s curative powers.

Many violations issued by the Marijuana Control Office enforcement agents over the past year have been against businesses caught advertising claims that cannabis can help with ailments ranging from anxiety to cancer.

Mark Springer of Bethel, the board member representing rural Alaska, asked the doctor if he was aware that in establishing the businesses, he’s in the recreational industry where health claims are not permitted.

Perez said he did.

“I appreciated his transparency,” said Brandon Emmett, a board member from Fairbanks representing the cannabis industry. “He will need to be cautious about how he operates his business. He’s got to have a clear line between his role as a physician and a role running his business, cautious about not bleeding the two into one another. I personally don’t see a conflict.”

Attorney Jana Weltzin, representing Perez before the Marijuana Control Board, wanted to be clear: “He recognizes there are medicinal values. However, he will not be talking about the curative, medical or therapeutic value (in his business). There is no connection between the two.”

Alaskans are seeing a dichotomy between medical and recreational marijuana, Weltzin said after the meeting.

“I don’t think I can explain why this is an issue,” she said. “Medical marijuana has been established in our state before I was born. Medical marijuana has been lost in the dust of the recreational market. If the industry is smart, they will lobby for rights, to give rights to medical users, in the recreational market. Right now we don’t have that.”

Weltzin specializes in the new body of law related to recreational marijuana that the board has adopted since it formed in 2015.

“The medical marijuana statue allows gifting and not exchanging marijuana for money,” she said. “Recreational authorizes sales for compensation. One is a commercial market and one is a gift market. That is the distinction.”

Why the commercial market cannot advertise marijuana’s curative powers relates to the board’s attempt to remain neutral. Another reason, said Springer, is that “we’re not regulating a medical program. There’s no mention in the proposition or the statute of medical marijuana.”

The scope of regulations the board oversees relate to “people over 21 years old, and for recreational purposes,” Springer said.

Other attitudes also seem to be at play in keeping out talk of medical marijuana.

“It’s an attempt to not encourage people to over consume,” Weltzin speculated. “If you tell everyone broccoli and carrots are extremely healthy, people will eat more broccoli and carrots. If people hear, ‘hey, this is good for you, it will cure your pain and help you sleep better,’ people would consume more. I think the intent was probably to temper over-consumption.”

A cultivation license for Green Valley Enterprises in Juneau applied for by Perez was approved Nov. 15.

It met with extensive questioning by board member Jones, who represents public health interests. In a 3-2 vote that nonetheless approved his operation plans, the board was split with Springer and Chairman and Soldotna Chief of Police Peter Mlyarnik against.

A second license for a retail store to be called Glacier Valley Shop, and a third for manufacturing marijuana products also was approved for Perez at a special meeting Nov. 28-29 after more than two dozen applications including the two for Perez weren’t ruled upon at the regularly scheduled Nov. 14-15 meeting.

The board approved the final two in a vote of 4-1, with Mlyarnik the lone vote against.

A cannabis operation cannot be within 500 feet of a school, a recreation or youth center, a building where religious services take place, a correctional center or a rehab clinic. But the law doesn’t say anything about a hospital or medical facility, Jones pointed out.

The Juneau Borough scrutinized the three cannabis business operations before granting a conditional use permit, or CUP. ForegetMeNot Enterprises Inc., under which the three businesses are organized, was granted a CUP by the Planning Commission but the matter never went before the borough Assembly because Juneau delegates permitting to the Planning Commission.

“I mentioned (to the board) there wasn’t much controversy (in Juneau), but I found it rather strange. I am on the local (Juneau) Assembly and I believe in the local process. There was nothing under our rules that I could justify a ‘no’ vote,” Jones said.

Jones therefore voted to approve all three applications.

Naomi Klouda can be reached at naomi.klouda@alaskajournal.com.

Updated: 
12/12/2017 - 11:16am

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