Alcoholic Beverage Control Board votes to remove director of AMCO

Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office Director Erika McConnell in June 2018. (KTUU)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Alaska's alcohol regulatory board has voted to remove the director of the Alcohol Marijuana Control Office Erika McConnell. A second majority vote from the marijuana regulatory board would be needed before McConnell is ousted.

During a special meeting Thursday, the board considered a “personnel matter relating to the director’s performance.” After going into executive session, the board introduced a motion to remove McConnell from her position as director.

Board members then spoke glowingly of McConnell’s performance and her work ethic. Questions were raised about her character and her working relationship with the alcohol industry.

The board then voted 5-0 to remove McConnell from office.

Libby Bakalar, a former attorney for the State of Alaska who is currently suing the governor for how she was removed from her position, spoke on McConnell’s behalf as her personal lawyer.

On Sept. 29, Bakalar sent a letter to the board and Julie Anderson, the Department of Commerce commissioner, writing that the Marijuana Control Board would also need a majority vote to remove McConnell from her position as director.

A vote before Nov. 30 of the MCB is required. In June, the board passed a vote of full confidence in McConnell as director.

The governor could also remove McConnell from office but Bakalar describes that the methods are limited and require public comment and charges to be filed with the lieutenant governor.

Last December, the Department of Public of Safety stopped AMCO from being able to access a database used by law enforcement officers. McConnell told the Marijuana Control Board in February that the information is “needed to conduct thorough and safe investigations.”

At the time, McConnell claimed the issue related to enforcing marijuana regulations. As marijuana is illegal at a federal level, there were fears that the FBI could “remove the entire state’s ability to access criminal justice information if the marijuana regulators are given access to criminal justice information,” she said.

Captain Rex Leath, an Alaska Wildlife Trooper and member of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, alleged in September that an AMCO staff member had tried to circumvent the rule barring the office from accessing the database.

Questions were raised by board members at a September meeting over McConnell’s ability to supervise enforcement staff. McConnell responded by a letter to the ABC board sent Sept. 18 vehemently denying the claim that her staff acted improperly.

In a July meeting, the ABC board proposed a regulation package that would restrict recreation activities at breweries and distilleries.

The controversial regulation package received a negative response from brewery owners across Alaska and from the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant, and Retailers Association, an influential organization that represents the alcohol industry.

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