Pubdate: Wed, 05 Nov 2014
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2014 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Authors: Suzanna Caldwell and Laurel Andrews


After years of debate -- and decades of semi-legal status -- Alaskans 
will finally be able to light up legally. On Tuesday, voters approved 
Ballot Measure 2, an initiative legalizing recreational marijuana in 
Alaska, by about 52 percent in favor to 48 percent opposed, with 100 
percent of the state's precincts reporting.

With the vote, Alaska joins Washington, Colorado and Oregon -- the 
latter of which also approved a similar initiative Tuesday -- as the 
first states in the country to legalize pot. Washington and Colorado 
approved their own initiatives in 2012.

The initiative will not become law until 90 days after the election 
is certified, which is expected to be in late November. Per the law, 
the state can then create a marijuana control board -- expected to be 
housed under the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic 
Development. That group will then have nine months to craft 
regulations dealing with how marijuana businesses will operate.

The initiative was years in the making. Alaska voters considered 
similar measures in 2000 and 2004. Both failed, though each indicated 
a measure of support for legalization. Measure 5 in 2000 took 40.9 
percent of the vote; Ballot Measure 2 in 2004 gained a few more 
points, with 44 percent of the electorate voting in favor of it.

Supporters expressed relief Tuesday as results streamed in.

"It looks good for us, but there are still a lot of votes to be 
counted" said Taylor Bickford, spokesman for the pro-legalization 
Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska, as the results 
ticked up to 44 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday evening.

But by 2 a.m. Wednesday, with all precincts reporting, the 
pro-legalization crowd was declaring victory.

"Now that the campaign is over, it's time to establish a robust 
regulatory system that sets an example for other states," Bickford 
said in a prepared statement. "A regulated marijuana market will 
generate millions of dollars in tax revenue and create good jobs for 
Alaskans. Law enforcement will be able to spend their time addressing 
serious crimes instead of enforcing failed marijuana prohibition laws."

What had seemed like an easy win earlier in the year appeared to slip 
in the weeks leading up to the election. Polls showed support for the 
measure at over 50 percent earlier in the year, but that appeared to 
decline over the summer and into fall. Dueling polls commissioned by 
both sides of the campaign showed striking differences between the 
two, making it anyone's guess which side would ultimately come out 
ahead in the vote.

The Yes campaign fought vigorously to get out their message of the 
failures of marijuana "prohibition" across the state. They contended 
that Ballot Measure 2 would regulate and tax a substance already 
being used by over 100,000 Alaskans each year. Doing so would begin 
to eliminate the black market and prevent people from being arrested 
for possessing or using a substance many argue is objectively safer 
than alcohol.

The campaign noted that Ballot Measure 2 would allow for regulation 
of marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol by controlling the types 
of products sold, prohibiting sales to those under 21 and taxing 
marijuana at $50 per ounce wholesale.

Proponents also championed the idea of reconciling what co-sponsor 
Tim Hinterberger, a longtime marijuana legalization advocate, called 
"illogical" laws.

A resolution to Alaska's complicated marijuana laws

Alaska's relationship with marijuana has long been a complicated one. 
The 1975 Alaska Supreme Court decision in Ravin v. State that 
Alaskans' right to privacy protected the possession of a small amount 
of marijuana in the home effectively legalized the substance.

Despite that status, the legality of marijuana has remained in 
question. The Ravin ruling has been interpreted to be narrow, 
protecting use only in the home. Alaska statutes prohibit the 
possession of even a small amount of marijuana. Making things more 
complicated are the state's medical marijuana laws, approved by 
voters in 1998. Patients can be prescribed the drug, however, with no 
dispensaries there is no legal way to acquire it.

Opponents of legalization agreed some reform to Alaska's marijuana 
laws might be appropriate, but that vagaries of Ballot Measure 2 made 
the initiative inappropriate for Alaska.

Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No on 2, the group opposing the 
measure, had concerns over the language of the initiative -- 
specifically that it left too much up to the regulatory process. With 
so many questions unanswered in the initiative's language, they 
voiced concerns over possible increases in marijuana use. They argued 
that more use would lead to more problems related to increased teen 
access, public health risks, potent marijuana concentrates and 
additional cost and resource burdens on public safety departments.

Opposition reacts

The No campaign expressed frustration with the results Tuesday night.

"We're disappointed in the numbers right now," said No campaign 
deputy treasurer Deborah Williams, but added, "We're very proud of 
the campaign we ran."

"The campaign pointed out a lot of needed areas for amendments and 
improvements ... the people in this campaign are committed to doing 
what is best for Alaska," she said.

But as the results continued to arrive and the gap became slightly 
more narrow as the night wore on, Williams expressed some optimism.

As she left Election Central at 11:30 p.m., Williams had her phone in 
hand and was refreshing election results every few minutes. "We keep 
narrowing the gap," she said. "Obviously we have a lot of ground to make up."

That gap never fully closed.

Despite its late start in the campaign cycle, the No campaign gained 
ground in the lead-up to Election Day. Focusing on a statewide 
grass-roots effort that included a long list of organizations and 
individuals opposing the measure, the group surged in fundraising 
down the home stretch. The No campaign was quick to note that the 
$148,000 it raised since April is 100 percent Alaska-funded -- a 
stark comparison to the Yes side, whose primary funding came through 
the Washington D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.

The group, a national nonprofit that advocates for marijuana reform 
across the country and was the primary sponsor behind Colorado's 
measure, funneled almost $800,000 into Alaska over the course of the campaign.

That funding base allowed the pro-legalization side to outspend their 
opponents nearly 9-1.

"Alaska is fiercely independent, and I think regardless of how 
tonight turns out Alaskans understand that we were part of a national 
strategy" surrounding pot legalization, said No campaign spokeswoman 
Kristina Woolston.

"I think at the end of the day we were all happy with the group of 
Alaskans that came together," she said.

What they lacked in spending they made up in notable public support. 
As the opposition rallied supporters -- from Alaska Native 
organizations, public safety officials, Alaska mayors, local 
communities and political leaders on both sides of the aisle -- 
supporters of legalization struggled against what they perceived as a 
long-standing stigma against marijuana.

That stigma didn't play out as much behind the voting curtain, with 
many Alaskans coming out in favor of the measure. Results showed 
supporters ahead from the start, with a lead they never relinquished 
as returns continued to stream in.

Tim Hinterberger, co-sponsor of the initiative, said the tide is 
changing when it comes to marijuana perceptions, for basic reasons. 
He pointed to wins in other states proving demographics are shifting 
on the substance, particularly among young voters.

"More people are voting who have experience with marijuana or know 
someone who uses marijuana," he said. "The older people who don't, 
they're dying off."

No clear voting bloc

Earlier in the day, one thing was clear: When it came to voting on 
Ballot Measure 2, party affiliation meant zilch.

In other states, marijuana legalization generally falls along party 
lines. Democrats tend to favor it, with Republicans opposed. But in 
Alaska, affiliation didn't seem to matter. Politicians on both sides 
of the aisle publicly opposed the measure, while supporters actively 
targeted conservative voters leading up to the election.

That targeting may have worked. Husband and wife Larry and Lauren 
Larsen of Fairview both described themselves as conservative voters 
and both voted in favor of legalizing marijuana.

Lauren Larsen thought police did a good job of dealing with violent 
crime, but didn't do so well when it came to property crimes. She 
attributes that to being overworked, and thought if marijuana was 
legalized it would at least free up some police resources.

Larry Larsen said the couple, who do not use marijuana, know people 
in Barrow who use pot.

"It's everywhere, it's no problem for people to get it," he said 
outside of his polling place at Anchorage's Central Lutheran Church. 
"If (marijuana enforcement) isn't working, then the hell with it."

The biggest issue that drove Rebecca DeGoroot to the polls was 
another ballot initiative, one which would raise the minimum wage and 
appeared to be winning handily Tuesday. DeGoroot has worked as 
manager, overseeing low paid workers and would like to see them paid 
more. She also voted in favor of the Bill Walker-Byron Mallott 
gubernatorial ticket.

But she didn't support Ballot Measure 2.

"I think there are more important things to worry about," she said in 
Fairview Tuesday afternoon.

"I wouldn't like to see it pass but I think it will," said Larry 
Mooney, waving a sign for Democratic Sen. Mark Begich Tuesday morning 
at the intersection of Minnesota Drive and Benson Boulevard.

Fairview resident Davy Mousseaux voted for conservative candidates 
straight down the ticket, but voted yes to legalize marijuana.

He said while he doesn't use it now, he has used it in the past and 
thought that legalization could help communities.

"Maybe if they legalize it there won't be so many problems," he said. 
"It's not like heroin or cocaine."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom