Pubdate: Fri, 24 Oct 2014
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2014 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Suzanna Caldwell


It some ways, the Bear Tooth Theatrepub was the most likely of venues 
for a debate on legalizing marijuana.

The popular concert venue is no stranger to marijuana use. Depending 
on the performer, fans can be seen lighting up and the distinctive, 
pungent smoke floats through the air.

But on Thursday night, the room was filled with debate from teams 
arguing for and against Ballot Measure 2, which would legalize 
recreational marijuana sales and use in Alaska.

"I was asked to remind that this is a nonsmoking venue," said 
moderator Steve Johnson before the debate. "This seems particularly relevant."

Someone in the nearly full theater of about 400 people yelled, "Boo."

Instead of lighting up, attendees snacked on pizza and beer. While 
debaters suggested comparisons to alcohol regulations time and again, 
none of them mentioned the drinks sitting on people's tables.

The debate was sponsored by the UAA Seawolf Debate Team and Alaska 
Dispatch News.

The arguments from both sides were mostly familiar. Kristina Woolston 
and Deborah Williams, arguing for Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No 
on 2, brought up concerns over revenue, Outside influences in the 
election, youth use, issues related to local option and marijuana 
concentrates. Taylor Bickford and Bruce Schulte, with the Campaign to 
Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska, spent time countering 
those points, pointing out that legalization would regulate a black 
market that already exists, keep marijuana out of the hands of 
children and stop unnecessarily criminalizing people.

Schulte said despite marijuana's semi-legal status in the state, 
which technically allows small amounts in the home, the substance is 
still very much illegal. His job as a pilot does not allow him to use 
marijuana, but he's seen friends charged, arrested and worse for it. 
He said some people have had "property seized and sold off."

"Let that sink in," Schulte told the audience. "That's happening today."

Woolston appealed to audiences on a more personal level. She said she 
and others gathered around a kitchen table last spring to consider 
Ballot Measure 2. She said those early volunteers at first wondered 
whether they should oppose it. But once they read what they found to 
be an "extreme" initiative, they realized they had to do something.

"We read this and we were stunned," Woolston said of the eight-page 
ballot measure.

The crowd was warmer to the yes side than the no side. In a 
pre-debate poll, 77 percent of audience members said they were in 
favor of the initiative, with only 15 percent opposing and 7 percent undecided.

Later in the debate, when Woolston pointed out there are more 
marijuana stores than Starbucks and McDonald's in Colorado, the crowd 
cheered. But addressing Woolston's concerns, Bickford noted later 
that the number of businesses could be limited through the regulatory process.

"There's no reason to think there's going to be a free-for-all with 
marijuana dispensaries on every corner," he said.

Despite the the leaning of the crowd, which was much less hostile 
than in other debates, Woolston and Williams appealed to them to make 
sure the yes side had met its "burden of proof" when it comes to 
whether the initiative is good for Alaska.

"We think most will respond with a resounding no," Woolston said.

Bickford with the yes campaign disagreed. He especially took issue 
with accusations from the no side claiming the marijuana campaign, 
and it's Outside funding from the Marijuana Policy Project, did not 
have Alaska's best interests at heart.

"We all care about Alaska; we just disagree on the best way to move 
this issue forward," Bickford told the audience. "We want a more 
sensible approach (to marijuana regulation), and that's what Ballot 
Measure 2 does."

At the end of the night, the crowd's perceptions hadn't changed much. 
Those in favor of the initiative went up to 80 percent, with 13 percent against.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom