The existence of a marijuana retail store has caused a lot of controversy in this tourist town based in Alaska, where hundreds of tourists come and shop on the streets daily looking for art galleries and souvenir shops housed in historic cabins. Majority of Talkeetna’s stores line the two blocks that make up its Main Street, where many tourists arrive in Alaska on cruise ships and are bused roughly two hours north of Anchorage, venture off into storefronts like Nagley’s General Store for ice cream or head over to West Rib Bar and Grille for a food and drinks.
At the opposite end of Main Street’s, close a river park where visitors take photos of the continent’s largest mountain is Talkeetna’s newest venture into the tourism trade. The High Expedition Co. is a signal to the rich mountain climbing history of the eclectic community purported to be the inspiration for the 1990s television series “Northern Exposure.”
Talkeetna’s first marijuana retail store is causing a stir not seen in other tourist-dependent towns in this Libertarian-leaning state, where marijuana had a minimal acceptance way before it became legal. But even here, like in many cannabis-legal states, some towns have opted out of sales; scared it might welcome crime and other evils.
In Talkeetna, a number of shop owners — the ones who built a multimillion-dollar business from the steady stream of mountain climbers who use Talkeetna as a staging point for treks up Denali — say this pot shop could destroy the town’s historic atmosphere and affect businessds like the eight or so stores that serve alcohol along Main Street could never do.
“I don’t think he belongs in downtown Talkeetna,” Meandering Moose B&B owner Mike Stoltz reported.
Joe McAneney co-owner of the High Expedition Co., which opened back in May stated, “The sky hasn’t fallen on Talkeetna, the sun is shining, and this is now the most photographed shop in town.”
McAneney has been working to open the shop nearly since 2014 that Alaska residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana. He and a partner purchased the cabin that was originally built for Ray Genet, an early Talkeetna climber and guide who passed away in 1979 on Mount Everest. McAneney worked with Genet’s family and has incorporated a small museum dedicated to Genet and Talkeetna’s climbing history.
“Small towns in Alaska are harder than anywhere to break into and sort of become accepted,” McAneney stated.
His store received the approval from the borough on a technicality when the assembly was writing regulations for marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas, like Talkeetna, and accidentally omitted special land use districts like the town’s Main Street. Talkeetna has now local governing body, only a nonvoting community council whose sole power is sending recommendations to borough officials nearly 75 miles away. State regulators approved the store’s permit on a 3-2 vote last spring.
“There’s people that are upset about it, but it’s legal,” stated Sue Deyoe, the Talkeetna Historical Society and Museum’s executive director.
Opposition heightened as the problem went before state regulators, where a stream of residents unsuccessfully called in to the Anchorage meeting to challenge the store’s license. Amid the largest issue for critics is the lack of places for tourists to smoke the marijuana they buy, smoking marijuana n public is still illegal, and that led to concerns the nearby river park would become the place to participate.
But opponents debate Talkeetna is lawless, with the closest trooper an hour away. “What are we supposed to do?” asked Stoltz, the bed and breakfast owner. “Are we going to take the law into our own hands? Duct-tape him?”
Stoltza added the presence of a marijuana store would hurt businesses in the town, where residents make a year’s living between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“If we lose our tourism, we lose what Talkeetna is,” he added. “We’re not catering to stoner tourists. To me, that’s the conflict with Joe.”
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