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Marijuana is legal in Alaska, for both medical and recreational purposes. But you might never guess that from the automated phone message that went out to parents on Monday night in Anchorage.

Campbell Elementary School issued an apology on Tuesday after the message the night before urged parents to attend a city Assembly meeting and voice opposition to marijuana retail stores on the agenda, reports Laurel Andrews at the Anchorage Daily News.

The message should never have been sent, due to its “partisan” nature, Anchorage School District spokesperson Heidi Embley said. The message was sent to 464 phone numbers, according to Embley.

The automated phone message was sent out by a member of the staff at the direction of Campbell Elementary Principal Michelle Johansen, according to Embley. When pressed about the staff member’s exact position, Embley replied in an email that Johansen was “taking responsibility” for the message.

“This was not something that should have happened or will happen again in the future,” Embley said.

A female voice in the message tells parents that a cannabis retail store “quietly passed without public input” at the last Anchorage Assembly meeting. It then urges parents to attend Tuesday’s meeting to oppose another store looking to open in the same area.

“It hits too close to home, it hits too close to our school,” the message says. “Please, we are asking for as many families as possible to make an appearance at the municipal Assembly tomorrow night to show who this will be having an impact on: our children.”

The message should have been specifically approved by Johansen, according to Embley. Johansen “had discussed it with the staff member but did not see the actual script,” Embley claimed.

The message notification system is normally used for informational and emergency phone calls, emails, or texts, Embley said. “It should have been a strictly informational message to notify parents of something that may have been of interest to them,” she said.

At 10:15 a.m. on Tuesday, a second call went out to parents.

“Campbell parents, this is Principal Michelle Johansen,” the second message said. “Yesterday you received a message to inform you about an activity in our school community which will be addressed at tonight’s assembly meeting. Unfortunately, words were used which implied partisanship. This is not the intent or policy of the district or our school, and I apologize for the message portrayed in the call.”

Two legal marijuana stores, Alaskabuds LLC and Enlighten Alaska LLC, were approved by the Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday night. One cultivation facility, Raspberry Roots, also was approved. “It did not appear that any parents showed up Tuesday night to testify about the Raspberry Roots license,” the Anchorage Daily News reports.

Raspberry Roots owner Kim Kole said she lodged a complaint about the message with the Anchorage School District on Tuesday morning.

The original message claimed that cannabis businesses “…only need to inform those people within a 500 foot radius from their business,” but that requirement is actually just one of several that must be met. In Anchorage, businesses must first discuss their plans at a community council meeting before being approved by the Anchorage Assembly.

Under Alaska law, potential marijuana businesses are also required to issue public notices after they’ve started a license application. The notices are published in a newspaper “once a week for three consecutive weeks,” as well as at the business location itself, and in one other “conspicuous location,” according to the rules.

“This was not a secret,” Kole said. “This was not quiet.”

Principals at all district schools were reminded on Tuesday of “appropriate communication as district employees, particularly regarding political activity,” Embley said. The elementary school was looking at the incident “with a high degree of seriousness,” she claimed.

Embley admitted the office had “received numerous calls” from parents on the issue. She wouldn’t say whether disciplinary action will be taken against the staff member who sent out the message.


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