Pubdate: Thu, 09 Jan 2014
Source: Anchorage Daily News (AK)
Copyright: 2014 The Anchorage Daily News
Author: Michelle Theriault Boots


Backers of a ballot initiative that could make Alaska the third state
to legalize marijuana for recreational use turned in some 46,000
signatures to the state election officials Wednesday -- putting the
question one step closer to the Aug. 19 ballot.

The Alaska measure is modeled on the 2012 Colorado initiative that
paved the way for a recreational-pot industry that threw open its
doors there on Jan. 1, when the law went into effect.

The backers of the Alaska initiative effort say legal marijuana is an
idea whose time has come.

"It's not that the initiative would bring marijuana to Alaska," said
Bill Parker, a former Department of Corrections deputy commissioner
and one of the initiative's sponsors. "Marijuana is already in Alaska.
It would legalize, regulate and tax it. It would treat it like alcohol."

The proposed initiative is backed by a coalition that calls itself the
Campaign to Regulate Marijuana.

The main local sponsors include Tim Hinterberger, a University of
Alaska-Anchorage professor, Mary Reff, a retired Anchorage accountant,
and Parker.

So far, the campaign has mostly been funded by the Marijuana Policy
Project, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that is the largest
marijuana policy reform group in the country.

Meanwhile, a national anti-legalization group said it is gearing up to
enter the fray.

Kevin Sabat, a Massachusetts-based spokesman for the group Smart
Approaches to Marijuana, said he was approached by an unnamed "very
diverse group of Alaskans who are very concerned with

SAM has emerged as a national foe of the Marijuana Policy

The opposition campaign plans to launch within the next two months,
Sabat said.

The group will argue that marijuana laws in Alaska are already liberal
enough and that a state-regulated industry would be a harbinger of
"onerous government relations and extra government influence," Sabat

A state Supreme Court decision decriminalized small amounts of
marijuana consumed in the privacy of a home in 1975, making Alaska the
sole state where pot was legal.

Since then, the law on marijuana in Alaska has see-sawed back and
forth between decriminalization and stricter enforcement.

A 1975 Alaska Supreme Court decision, Ravin v. State, found that
banning the use of small amounts of marijuana at home violated a state
constitutional right to privacy.

The Legislature tried again in 2006 to ban possession of small amounts
of pot, but overturning the Ravin decision would take another ruling
by the Supreme Court and no one has appealed a case that far.

As a result, the 2006 restrictions are probably unenforceable.

In 1998, Alaska voters legalized medical marijuana.

Legalization has been on ballot initiatives twice before: In 2000, a
broadly written initiative got 41 percent of the vote. Another attempt
in 2004 garnered 44 percent.

The country has changed since then, said Parker.

"I think Alaska and the country are coming to grips with the fact that
what we have isn't working."

Polling shows that a majority of Alaskans favor legalization, said
Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project. He said he couldn't
immediately cite specific numbers.

Alaska's current marijuana laws are a contradictory patchwork, Parker

"In the insane way it fell together, it's legal to have it in your
home but not to acquire it. And you can legally acquire it with a
medical prescription but there's no place to buy it."

If the measure passes, people over 21 could legally keep up to an
ounce of marijuana and six plants for personal use. They could also
buy cannabis and cannabis-related products freely at licensed shops.
They could smoke on private property -- such as a balcony or front
yard -- but not on public property. Scofflaws could be fined $100.

But the neighborhood guy who grows pot in his attic and sells it to

That would be illegal, unless he became a licensed cultivator and
distributor, Tvert said.

The industry would be regulated by the state Alcoholic Beverage
Control Board at first, but lawmakers could create at any point new
Marijuana Control Board.

The board would regulate the retail stores, greenhouses, manufacturers
of pot-related products and testing facilities. The board would have
about nine months to design regulations. Would-be marijuana
entrepreneurs could start applying to open business after a year.

A local control provision would mean that individual towns could ban
the shops, similar to the way some Alaskan communities ban the sale of

(In Colorado, the initial bunch of businesses are clustered in Denver,
Boulder and some mountain towns, Tvert said.)

The initiative would have no impact on the state's existing medical
marijuana law, or for that matter, federal law: Marijuana is still
considered a "Schedule I" illegal drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency,
along with heroin and LSD.

Tvert says Alaska and Oregon are the two states most likely to pass
legalization measures in 2014.

But he sees a cascade of other states following, mostly through the
ballot initiative process.

"I think we're going to see states adopting these laws very

State election officials have 60 days to certify the Campaign to
Regulate Marijuana's signatures.

The group needs 30,000 qualified signatures for a vote to happen.
Signatures must come from at least 7 percent of voters in a minimum of
30 House districts.

The next step? A statewide "roadshow" to tell people what to expect
from legalization, Hinterberger said.

And yes, Hinterberger says, in case you were wondering: He smokes

"I think in probably ridiculously small amounts for a legalization
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