Pubdate: Thu, 06 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
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Alaska voters on Tuesday might have been the fourth state in the 
nation to approve recreational marijuana legalization, but residents 
will still have to wait before being able to use legally.

Alaska followed Oregon and Washington D.C. in passing initiatives on 
Election Day legalizing recreational marijuana. Championed by the 
Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska, the newly 
passed Ballot Measure 2 will tax and regulate the substance in a 
manner similar to alcohol, allowing sales to only those 21 years of 
age and older. It will tax the substance at $50 per ounce wholesale. 
Washington state and Colorado both passed similar legalization 
measures in 2012.

When will people be able to legally possess and transport marijuana? 
Likely at the end of February, according to Cynthia Franklin, 
director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Initiatives do not 
become law until 90 days after the election is certified, which is 
tentatively set to happen Nov. 28, Franklin said.

But, Franklin warned, "Until that 90-day window has passed, those 
criminal statutes are still full force in effect."

Once the initiative becomes law, personal use of marijuana by adults 
21 and older will be legal. People will be able to possess and 
transport up to 1 ounce of marijuana, and grow or transport up to six 
marijuana plants, three of which can be flowering at one time. People 
can give each other up to 1 ounce of marijuana, or six immature 
plants. Smoking in public will be banned, however, and subject to a 
$100 citation.

What agency will craft the specific regulations remains to be seen. 
The Legislature has the option to create the Marijuana Control Board, 
which would be housed under the Department of Commerce, Community and 
Economic Development.

Even if a Marijuana Control Board is implemented, the ABC Board will 
still have "valuable insight" into the regulation process, Franklin said.

And don't expect to see marijuana businesses right away. The board 
will have nine months to craft regulations surrounding marijuana 
establishments. Those regulations will likely be in place in November 
2015. The board will then begin accepting business applications in 
February 2016, and begin issuing business licenses no later than May 2016.

"We're starting from the ground up, basically," said ABC Board member 
Ellen Ganley.

Alaska can learn from both Colorado and Washington's rollout, Ganley 
said, and she anticipates tweaks to the regulations in the first few 
years as Alaska's system gets up and running.

Making the rules

For now, the ABC Board is waiting for the final votes to be counted 
and the election to be certified, Franklin said. After that, the 
agency will draft a timeline for the rulemaking process.

"The process for creating regulations is a statewide process, it's a 
standardized process," Franklin said. "That means that there will be 
public notification and a public comment period," and proposed 
regulations will be posted online.

Regardless of what entity is crafting the regulations, it will be 
under "intense scrutiny" from the 48 percent of voters who did not 
approve the measure, Franklin said.

"I expect it to be a pretty lively process," Franklin said. "I think 
it will be transparent, and the public will certainly have the 
opportunity to provide input."

Both Franklin and Ganley agreed that the ABC Board would need more 
staff to tackle a whole new industry.

"Certainly we'd anticipate if the work remains under the ABC Board 
there will be additional personnel and staffing needs," Franklin said.

Both, though, are confident in the ABC Board's ability to meet the 
deadlines outlined in the initiative.

"It's just going to be a huge challenge, I think, but a very 
interesting challenge ... it's gonna be fun," Ganley said.

Emerging interests

During a national conference call with the Drug Policy Alliance 
Wednesday morning, campaign spokesman Taylor Bickford said with the 
measure approved, marijuana legalization advocates will now begin the 
process of figuring out how exactly Alaska will deal with the 
now-legal substance.

"The advantage we all have of legalizing in 2014 is that we can draw 
from the successes in both Washington and Colorado to build 
regulatory structures that work for our states," Bickford said. "A 
lot of what's happening can be replicated."

Whether the Alaska campaign will still be involved with that process 
is yet to be determined, according to Bickford.

"We will have some role, but we're not sure what that will look like," he said.

A spokesman for the national Marijuana Policy Project, the primary 
backer of Ballot Measure 2, said from here the group will be more 
hands-off when it comes to the state crafting its regulations. The 
group spent nearly $800,000 on the campaign, a majority of the 
pro-legalization side's fundraising, which totaled just under $900,000.

Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy 
Project, said the group will connect local lawmakers with experts and 
resources, but is unlikely to participate in the rulemaking process. 
Their role is giving local advocates the resources they need to 
create the regulations, leaving the states to craft rules that work for them.

"Our organization and staff generally won't be walking the halls of 
the legislature," Tvert said Wednesday.

But Bruce Schulte hopes his group will. Schulte, who served as the 
conservative face of Alaska's marijuana campaign, has been heading up 
public relations for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis 
Legislation. That group, consisting mostly of business leaders, plans 
to work with the Legislature and any future Marijuana Control Board 
to craft regulations.

Schulte said he expects people from both sides of the issue to come 
together during the rulemaking process. Marijuana legalization is a 
change for the state, he said, and one that comes with legitimate 
concerns from people. But he believes those concerns will be addressed.

"At the end of the day, (marijuana legalization) is a problem of a 
defined scope and schedule, and we know what the variables are," 
Schulte said. "The only remaining question is how do we handle those 
variables and how do we do it in a rational way?"
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom