It’s official: Alaska voters will decide this summer whether they want to follow Washington State and Colorado in legalizing weed.
On Feb. 26, Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell formally certified that legalization proponents had gathered more than 36,000 valid voter signatures. That was about 6,000 more than they needed.
That means their initiative, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska, will appear on the primary ballot Aug. 17. If it passes with more than 50 percent of the vote, Alaska will become the third state in the nation to regulate and tax the sale of cannabis.
“A bipartisan tidal wave of public support for regulating marijuana like alcohol in Alaska has pushed this issue onto the ballot, and we will be running an aggressive campaign designed to build momentum on that,” said campaign spokesman Taylor Bickford.
Under the proposal, Alaska would allow adults over the age of 21 to buy, possess and use up to one ounce of weed and grow up to six plants, with three flowering at any given time. Growers could keep and consume their own pot, even in excess of one ounce, as long as it doesn’t leave the property.
The cultivation, processing and sale of cannabis would also be legal, as would marijuana paraphernalia. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board would be given oversight responsibility unless the legislature decides to create a separate Marijuana Control Board. A tax of $50 per ounce would be applied at the wholesale level.
Regulations would be written up within the first nine months of the program, and the state would have one year from the date of the vote to start issuing business licenses. In other words, Alaskans could start buying weed as soon as the summer of 2015.
The initiative is closely modeled after the successful legalization campaigns in Colorado and Washington. The Marijuana Policy Project, the largest pro-pot lobbying group, is backing the Alaska effort and was a major player in Colorado as well.
The Marijuana Policy Project and other high-profile groups have targeted Alaska as the next piece in their long-term effort to end prohibition nationwide. It’s part of an ambitious goal of legalizing 10 new states by 2017.
“There is more public dialogue about marijuana taking place than ever before,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for theMarijuana Policy Project. “It won’t be long before we see similar steps being taken in other states.”
Alaska is considered especially well suited to reform. Weed was decriminalized there in 1975, when the state Supreme Court ruled the Alaska Constitution protects adults who want to possess, use and grow small amounts of pot at home.
Then, during the crime wave of the early 1990s, the state’s voters opted to recriminalize the drug, ignoring the court’s ruling. An appellate court threw out the law, so in 2006 the state legislature tried to impose criminal penalties again.
Technically speaking, weed is illegal in Alaska, but in reality, the law is inconsistently enforced and the state’s residents are thought to be relatively comfortable with the idea of legalization. A poll released in early February found 55 percent of registered voters in Alaska favor legalization.