Anchorage to decide if marijuana shop can open near church

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Anchorage Assembly is expected to decide whether a retail marijuana store can open despite its location next to a shelter that also serves as a church, officials said.

AlaskaSense LLC plans to open a marijuana store in Anchorage beside the Downtown Soup Kitchen Hope Center, The Anchorage Daily News reported Sunday.

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The soup kitchen and women's shelter leases space to a Texas ministry called Hope Church. The city's planning department classified the entire operation as a religious assembly with special protections.

The centre's board recently sent a letter to AlaskaSense explaining it voted to drop the opposition to the business, but the decision remains with the city.

AlaskaSense owner Smadi Warden spent $400,000 in rent and renovations based on previous assurances from the city that it met zoning regulations, she said.

Warden has requested a variance from the ordinance protecting churches from marijuana retailers, something the assembly has never granted.

"The original approval, it just went smooth, and there has never been a question about if the Hope Center was a church. For three years I've been paying the rent, trying to get this thing moving," Warden said.

The soup kitchen originally did not qualify as a protected area preventing a marijuana business from operating within 200 feet (61 metres). City measurements put AlaskaSense 55 feet (17 metres) from the Hope Center property line.

"They fought as a soup kitchen, then they lost the fight," Warden said. "Now they are coming back in a different way and they call it a church."

The operation is clearly a religious one and the city is following protocol, said Hope Center Executive Director Sherrie Laurie, who would not comment on why the centre sent a letter saying it had dropped its opposition.

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Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com

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