Pubdate: Sat, 01 Nov 2014
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2014 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Suzanna Caldwell


Independent Alaskans, known for their libertarian streak, were a key 
reason activists threw their support behind Alaska's effort to 
legalize recreational marijuana in 2014. But with only days until the 
vote, it's anyone's guess whether those live-and-let-live folks will 
go to the polls and which way they'll vote.

Polls have been inconsistent, with wildly different results, in the 
weeks leading up to Nov. 4. Some show that support -- nationally and 
in Alaska -- has been above 50 percent. But whether that will mean 
success for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska 
remains to be seen.

"I think it's going to be real close," said Tim Hinterberger, 
co-sponsor of the initiative. "I don't think anyone can say anything 
other than that."

Hinterberger, who has been involved in Alaska marijuana reform for 
decades, thinks the measure will do better than in previous votes and 
leans toward the initiative passing. But he's not making any predictions.

"We've been holding our breath all along, especially after 10 years," 
he said, referring to a similar initiative in 2004 that failed, 56 
percent against to 44 percent in favor.

Deborah Williams, treasurer with Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No 
on 2, the campaign that formed in April to oppose the initiative, 
believes the measure will fail Tuesday night.

She said the campaign's grassroots effort across the state to tell 
people what they believe Ballot Measure 2 does will ultimately lead 
them to success.

"Once people had the opportunity to learn about it, they said, 'No, 
this is not the right initiative for Alaska now,' " she said.

Hinterberger counters that that sort of thinking was the biggest 
obstacle the campaign has faced, one rooted in a stigma against marijuana.

"For a lot of undecided voters, the argument that 'let's just wait, 
let's just keep waiting and keep prohibition going' " has had 
resonance, he said. "That's an easy way to rationalizing voting no 
without being opposed to it."

What it's all about

At its core, Ballot Measure 2 asks Alaskans to approve "an act to tax 
and regulate the production, sale and use of marijuana." But there's 
much more to it.

Proponents of the measure say the eight-page initiative -- too short, 
according to opponents -- allows the state to set up a basic 
framework for regulating marijuana. They expect the rulemaking 
process and any amendments to the law following its passage to be strict.

The initiative, if passed, would legalize recreational use of 
marijuana for those 21 and older. Beyond the age range, there are 
similarities to how the state controls alcohol. The initiative would 
allow the state to set up a marijuana control board, similar to the 
Alcoholic Beverage Control Board currently housed under the Alaska 
Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. The 
initiative would also tax marijuana at $50 per ounce wholesale.

The initiative allows that board to take nine months to formulate 
regulations. Within that period it will set up a process for issuing 
growing and retail licenses, outline security requirements, labeling 
issues, restrictions on advertising, and health and safety 
regulations for marijuana products, among other things.

It also allows a provision for communities to opt out of allowing 
commercial operations or retail stores.

Already semi-legal

The Yes campaign says Ballot Measure 2 would reconcile already 
confusing Alaska laws regarding marijuana.

In 1975, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in Ravin v. State that the 
right to privacy protects a small amount of marijuana in the home. 
However, per state statute, it is a misdemeanor to use or display a 
small amount of marijuana.

Also adding confusion is Alaska's medical marijuana laws, approved by 
voters in 1998. Under those laws, patients registered with the state 
(or their proxy) can possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and six 
plants, three of which can be mature.

However, no system was ever set up for dispensing marijuana, and the 
only way patients can access the drug is by obtaining it through the 
black market.

If Ballot Measure 2 passes, Alaska would follow Colorado and 
Washington in legalization of recreational marijuana, with Oregon and 
Washington, D.C., also both considering such measures on Tuesday's 
ballot. The eight-page Alaska initiative is modeled after Colorado's, 
passed in 2012. Washington state voters passed a legalization measure 
the same year, though its measure was outlined in dozens of pages of law.

During Alaska's debate over Ballot Measure 2, much has been made of 
Colorado's and Washington's experiences so far, which couldn't have 
been more different.

Colorado allowed its well-established medical marijuana dispensaries 
to begin selling recreational marijuana at the beginning of this year 
following a rulemaking process that resulted in 136 pages of law, 
with no limits as to how many businesses could open.

Washington, which also had medical marijuana dispensaries in place, 
opted for a different approach. Essentially starting from scratch, 
the Washington Liquor Control Board strictly limited the number of 
licenses a grower or retailer could hold. That's resulted in a slow 
rollout process, with the first marijuana retail stores opening in 
July. A total of 334 businesses are allowed in the state. In Seattle, 
population 650,000, only 21 businesses are allowed. As of October, 
only two had opened.

Concerns over commercialization

The No campaign has run a fierce ground game in Alaska, pulling 
support from across the state. The No campaign points to a long list 
of organizations opposing the measure. Big help has come from Alaska 
Native leaders, law enforcement, Alaska mayors and political leaders 
on both sides of the aisle, among other groups.

They championed that support by delivering their message across the 
state. The campaign has voiced numerous concerns over how the 
regulatory process will work.

Alaska statutes allow initiatives to be amended by the state 
constitution as long as they do not constitute a repeal of the 
measure. The No campaign has argued that limiting things like the 
production of butane hash oil, advertising restrictions and issues 
related to communities' "local option" -- laws that prohibit the sale 
and possession of alcohol -- would add up, essentially causing a 
repeal of the measure.

According to attorneys unaffiliated with the campaign, adding 
amendments dealing with public safety issues is unlikely to be a 
repeal, since the measure specifically outlines regulation. It's a 
point proponents of the measure have tried to champion.

The No campaign also argued that the measure goes beyond just 
allowing recreational marijuana, and that it would in effect create 
an entire commercial industry.

Those concerns about commercialization tie into what they believe 
will be increases in youth use, public health and public safety 
problems, and fiscal irresponsibility.

They've often pointed to Colorado as a lesson on how not to do 
things, citing increases in stoned driving, hash oil explosions, 
concerns over potent marijuana concentrates and edible overdoses, and 
a lack of tax revenue, among others.

They've also sharply criticized the Yes side for its Outside funding 
sources, noting that their campaign is funded solely from Alaskans' 
donations. To date, the No campaign has received more than $148,000 
in contributions, all from in-state. In comparison, the Yes campaign 
has received more than $866,000, with big donations coming from the 
Marijuana Policy Project and Drug Policy Alliance.

Reconciling illogical laws

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska has not 
shied away from its association with the Marijuana Policy Project, 
which has been the primary funder behind the initiative. 
Hinterberger, one of the co-sponsors, said marijuana prohibition was 
forced on Alaskans by the federal government, and there's no reason 
why a national group shouldn't step in to help repeal that effort.

"The propaganda against marijuana has been going on for decades; it's 
an effort of the federal government," Hinterberger said. "It's 
impossible for us to have an effective (local) campaign against all of that."

The Yes campaign has pointed to support from the 45,000 people who 
signed the petition to get it on the ballot, well over the 30,000 
needed, as well as thousands of volunteers across the state.

But they've courted few endorsements from public figures, in striking 
contrast to the opposition. With the exception of Forrest Dunbar, a 
Democrat running for U.S. Congress, all candidates for statewide 
office have opposed Ballot Measure 2.

Hinterberger and others in the campaign have said they've heard 
privately from many who support the measure but who fear reprisal for 
speaking out in favor of it.

The campaign also argues that marijuana is already in Alaska and that 
it's not going to create the massive industry opponents argue the law 
will produce, citing the slow rollout in Washington state as an example.

They have argued that legalizing marijuana would keep marijuana from 
youths through strict regulation, eliminate the black market over 
time -- keeping money away from drug dealers and directing dollars 
toward prevention, public health and public safety -- and stop 
needless arrests of people for using a substance they consider safer 
than alcohol.

Campaign backlash

Hinterberger said when the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana in Alaska 
began advocating for the measure, organizers wondered who could 
possibly oppose it.

"We thought, 'No one believes reefer madness.' Yet that's what we 
ended up facing," Hinterberger said.

People involved with the No campaign counter that they have never 
tried to fear-monger, though at times their arguments have not been 
taken well by proponents of the measure.

Williams noted numerous incivilities coming from proponents of 
legalization. The apex came when Charlo Greene, a KTVA-TV reporter, 
used an obscenity and quit live on air to focus on her own marijuana business.

In debates and hearings that followed, the campaign found itself 
fighting sharply personal criticism. Williams called the ad hominem 
attacks "un-Alaskan" and thinks that reaction hasn't played well with 
undecided voters.

"I think Alaskans have reacted against that," Williams said. "That's 
not how we treat Alaskans."

Williams said she's had three magnetic bumper stickers supporting the 
No campaign disappear from her car. They even intercepted someone at 
the Bear Tooth marijuana debate attempting to take the same sticker 
off Kristina Woolston's car. Signs have been spray-painted (a green Y 
over the No to create a "Yo on 2" sign), knocked over and bashed in.

The Yes campaign has dealt with its own negative reactions. Spokesman 
Taylor Bickford said nearly 50 signs disappeared from the Kenai 
Peninsula and others have been knocked over across the state.

Bickford also argued that part of the reactions stemmed from deeply 
personal feelings over the issue. He noted that the No side often 
condemned people for using the substance they feel is a safe, adult choice.

"People are frustrated with current policies and sometimes you see 
that manifest itself in ways that are counterproductive," Bickford 
said after a contentious Anchorage ballot measure hearing in 
September. "But these people are all coming from the same place."

What this means for the future

For the most part, Alaska followed a similar path to legalization 
seen in other states, according to Erik Altieri, communication 
director for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of 
Marijuana Laws. He said the arguments, on both sides, were not all 
that different from arguments presented in Colorado and Washington.

What surprised him was the lack of partisanship in the election. 
Typically the lines are split more closely, with Republicans against 
the measure and Democrats for it. But that didn't happen in Alaska. 
Campaign spokesman Bickford has a long history in Republican 
politics, and the campaign focused some of its efforts on getting out 
the vote to conservatives. In contrast, Williams, with the No 
campaign, is the former head of the Alaska Democratic Party.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, 
which donated $100,000 to the Yes campaign in July, said marijuana 
wins in Alaska and Oregon will undoubtedly lead to wins in other, 
larger states during the 2016 election.

Nadelmann said Thursday he wasn't sure how Alaska would turn out. 
What had seemed an easy win earlier in the year was clearly in "roll 
the dice mode" now.

That's happened in Oregon too, he said. While either a loss or win in 
Alaska will likely affect national momentum, Nadelmann said other 
states will still move forward in 2016, including California. The 
ultimate goal? To put pressure on the federal government to 
decriminalize the drug at the highest level.

If it loses, local activists could come back but Nadelmann said 
Alaskans shouldn't expect to see national organizations making the 
same donations they did before.

"If either state loses by a small amount, and it's because young 
people don't turn out, two years from now it'll be an easy win," he 
said. "But enthusiasm will be less."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom