Pubdate: Thu, 19 Sep 2002
Source: Juneau Empire (AK)
Copyright: 2002 Southeastern Newspaper Corp
Author: Timothy Inklebarger


An office space that has sprouted up in downtown Juneau is the new 
headquarters of a group aiming to legalize marijuana through a statewide 
ballot initiative.

In a storefront space at 217 Seward, a sign on the door quotes former Gov. 
Jay Hammond: "It's hypocritical to punish users of marijuana while legally 
sanctioning the use of alcohol." A freshly painted mural of marijuana 
leaves emblazons the front window.

Inside the space a wall is being constructed to separate the back office 
from a reception area up front, while petitioners mill around organizing 
campaign material.

The group Free Hemp in Alaska is giving its legalization initiative a 
second run after a similar one failed in the 2000 general election.

Al Anders, the treasurer for the group and Libertarian candidate for 
lieutenant governor, said the office space has been paid for by a Juneau 
donor, but he hopes the campaign ultimately will raise enough money to pay 
the cost itself. A lack of money hurt the group's effort in the 2000 
initiative, Anders said.

The 2000 initiative would have made consumption of marijuana legal for 
adults 18 and over, and granted amnesty and paid restitution to those 
convicted of crimes involving the drug.

The new initiative would eliminate civil and criminal penalties for 
growing, using or selling marijuana, and would allow for laws limiting 
marijuana use in public.

Free Hemp in Alaska organizer Evan Pederson, 22, said the message the group 
got from voters in the last election was "tone it down." He said the 
provisions granting amnesty and restitution made a lot of people vote 
against the measure even though they support legalization.

"By taking those provisions out it will win a lot of people who were on the 
fence," Pederson said.

That initiative failed statewide, with 59 percent voting against it and 41 
percent voting for it. In Juneau, 53 percent voted no and 47 percent voted yes.

Free Hemp in Alaska has until Nov. 19 to collect the 28,782 signatures 
needed to be certified for the 2004 primary election. Pederson said 
petitioners are going door-to-door and stationing themselves in front of 
local businesses to collect signatures.

A similar effort is under way in Anchorage, where the group's headquarters 
is located.

Pederson said petitioners have collected over half of the signatures needed 
to make it onto the November ballot. He said the Juneau group has 15 paid 
petitioners on staff and about 10 volunteers. Anders said petitioners are 
paid 50 cents a signature.

Once the signatures are collected and the petition is certified, Pederson 
said, the group will begin a public relations campaign that will run until 
the August 2004 election.

Wev Shea, an Anchorage attorney who fought the legalization effort in 2000, 
said he plans to do so again.

"I can't wait," Shea said.

Shea served as U.S. attorney in Alaska from 1990 to 1993, noting that his 
key focus was prosecuting drug cases.

Regardless of whether the initiative passes, Shea said, federal law will 
take priority over state law. Passage of the measure, however, would 
prevent federal authorities from using state personnel or resources to 
enforce the law.

Prior to 1990, Alaska permitted adults 18 and over to possess under four 
ounces of marijuana in a home or other private place. A ballot initiative 
made it illegal, with 54 percent voting in favor of the law.

Shea was not aware of any opposition group working to block the initiative, 
but he added that if the hemp group's petition is certified he would be 
involved in any group that opposes it.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart