Weed is one step closer to legal in Alaska.

Legalization advocates delivered more than 46,000 voter signatures to state election officials Jan. 8, 50 percent more than the roughly 30,000 they need to put the issue on the ballot. If officials certify enough of the signatures, voters will decide this year whether to make recreational pot legal and subject to state regulation.

A certain percentage of signatures are typically tossed out, usually 25 to 30 percent. But activists in Alaska now have a much bigger cushion than that.

Election officials have 60 days from Jan. 8 to verify the signatures. If enough check out, the issue will go on the Aug. 19 primary ballot.

alaska state marijuana leaf

That would make Alaska the leading candidate to become the third state to legalize marijuana. Voter support for the idea is strong, and it is expected it would pass. At least one other state, California, could vote to legalize in 2014, but the issue won’t make the ballot there until at least November.

The campaign in Alaska is part of a broad initiative to legalize 10 states by 2017. Colorado and Washington State both made weed legal in 2012. Alaska is considered a particularly ripe target because pot is already de facto legal there.

In a landmark 1972 case, Ravin v. Alaska, the state Supreme Court ruled the Alaska constitution protects the right of residents to smoke up in their homes. Weed remains illegal under statute, but the courts don’t enforce it and arrests are all but unheard of.

Nonetheless, the state still prosecutes the cultivation and sale of marijuana, and that’s what activists want to change. They want to make it legal for adults to purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana at retail stores.

Adults would also be allowed to grow up to six plants at home. They could keep as much as they grow, even in excess of one ounce, as long as it doesn’t leave the premises.

The measure would legalize paraphernalia, as well as cultivation facilities, infused product manufacturers and testing laboratories. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board would be given oversight of the industry unless the legislature creates a Marijuana Control Board.

The proposal, which is backed locally by a coalition called the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana and supported by the national Marijuana Policy Project, would also impose a $50 per ounce wholesale transfer tax.

Previous attempts to legalize in Alaska, in 2000 and 2004, met with failure. But supporters say times have changed. A poll released last year showed 54 percent of Alaskans want to legalize.

“It’s not that the initiative would bring marijuana to Alaska,” said Bill Parker, a sponsor of the initiative. “Marijuana is already in Alaska. It would legalize, regulate and tax it. It would treat it like alcohol.”


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