DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Alaska is about to become the first state with pot cafes. These are businesses where people can buy and consume marijuana just like they do in Amsterdam. Right now, this is not legal in other states that allow recreational marijuana. From member station KTOO in Juneau, Elizabeth Jenkins explains.
ELIZABETH JENKINS, BYLINE: At the bottom of a staircase in James Barrett and his brother Giono's house is a room about the size of a one-car garage.
GIONO BARRETT: So these are six plants right here. We have two that are flowering.
JENKINS: A fan and grow light are perched above the plants. It's a test garden for their marijuana business, Rainforest Farms. Giono and his brother grew up on an actual farm in the Midwest doing chores like collecting eggs and watering crops.
G. BARRETT: To throw cannabis in the mix in a homestead in Alaska, that's like the ultimate dream.
JENKINS: What the brothers have in mind is something they're calling boutique or craft marijuana. James says think of it more as a farm to table approach to cannabis.
JAMES BARRETT: Our company, Rainforest Farms, wants to produce a line of chocolate bars. We really believe in healthy food and healthy eating. That's what we live by.
JENKINS: An alternative to the sugary, processed edibles Giono says he's eaten recently in Colorado.
G. BARRETT: Man, when I was down there, there was just a lot of products I didn't want to put in my body at all and not because of the cannabis. I actually got sick off one of them. I got nauseous.
JENKINS: But unlike Colorado, Rainforest Farms can have a cafe for its customers to eat their pot-infused treats. In November, at the Alaska state marijuana control board approved on-site consumption at retail stores. Those businesses could start popping up as early as the summer. Each municipality has to give the ultimate OK.
MARY BECKER: I am not thinking, oh, goody, goody - we're going to get rich because of pot. That is not in my thought process at all.
JENKINS: That's Mary Becker, the mayor of Juneau. She's a retired middle school teacher. Drug aversion programs, she said, were a regular staple in her classroom.
BECKER: I have grandchildren and I've taught school. And I want to see these young people have good jobs. They can't even get a job in the mine if they test with a drug in their system.
JENKINS: Pot cafes in Alaska give people a legal place to consume marijuana, just not smoke it. Juneau has a strict clean air ordinance that prohibits smoking tobacco and marijuana in public places, in businesses like restaurants, even in private clubs like an Elks Lodge. Becker says while she's not excited her state would be the first to have marijuana cafes, a pot brownie doesn't bother her as much as a joint.
BECKER: Edibles - I mean, I'd rather people didn't put their calories in their bodies with edibles of drugs. But it does not damage the smoking ordinance. And that's been one of my real concerns.
KEVIN HIGGINS: To some degree, it will be nice for people who want to become connoisseurs of different varieties of marijuana.
JENKINS: Attorney Kevin Higgins says he smokes marijuana at his home to relieve job stress but would consider going to pot cafes. He says the number of local pot enthusiasts like himself in Juneau isn't probably big enough to sustain businesses. But there is another possibility.
HIGGINS: Tourists are obviously willing to pay a premium on a lot of things just to be part of the experience of floating up the Inside Passage.
JENKINS: And with close to a million cruise ship passengers each year, marijuana cafes could mean an added attraction in Juneau. But Mayor Mary Becker says pot pales in comparison to the city's other attractions.
BECKER: Have we looked at the Mendenhall Glacier? Have we gone out on the water and seen the whales? I have a hard time thinking people are going to come to Juneau to get their pot.
JENKINS: But if businesses like Rainforest Farms get their way those summer cruises to Alaska could also include a taste of cannabis. For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Jenkins in Juneau.
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