Marijuana advocates in Alaska say they have more than enough signatures to put legalization on the ballot there in 2014.
Organizers told KTUU TV they’ve gathered nearly 45,000 signatures from qualified voters, 15,000 more than they needed. They want to cross the 45,000 mark before they hand the signatures over to the state.
Alaska is one of several states, including California and Oregon, that could legalize weed in coming months. Pot is already de facto legal in the state, making it that much more likely the legalization proposal will succeed in 2014.
That means that if efforts in California and Oregon fall short, Alaska could be the next place to experiment with marijuana reform. With a famous libertarian streak, the state has long been considered a likely target for legalization.
Technically weed is illegal in Alaska, at least by way of legislation. But a landmark 1975 court case made possession and use legal for all intents and purposes – though sale and manufacture remain outlawed.
In that court case, a Homer resident, Irwin Ravin, arranged his own arrest so he could challenge the state’s possession law using privacy protections in the Alaska constitution. Ravin pressed his case to the state Supreme Court, which ruled the legislature couldn’t prevent adults from possessing small amounts of weed in their homes.
Conservative lawmakers have tried ever since to ban pot again, and they managed to score a handful of arrests here and there, but thanks to continuing court decisions, weed remains legal for those who possess and smoke it in private.
Alaska also has medical marijuana, which should greatly increase the likelihood voters will legalize. There have been previous attempts to make marijuana legal via voter initiative, in 2000 and 2004. Both failed, but the latter effort snagged 44 percent of the vote – and the gap in support has since reversed, according to recent polls.
If state officials determine enough valid signatures were gathered, the proposal will go before voters in the August primary election. Organizers are facing a deadline of Jan. 21 to deliver the signatures.
Among other provisions, Ravin’s initiative would levy a $50-per-ounce retail sales tax and would allow local communities to ban pot shops. The proposal closely resembles the marijuana laws approved in Colorado and Washington State in 2012, said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project.