Pubdate: Sun, 09 Nov 2014
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2014 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Suzanna Caldwell


After months of debate and decades of semi-legal status, Alaskans 
voted Tuesday to approve Ballot Measure 2, an initiative legalizing 
recreational marijuana in Alaska. By approving the measure, Alaska 
became the fourth state to approve use of the substance, part of a 
national tide of states considering similar laws.

As of Friday, the measure was ahead by more than 9,600 votes. While 
other races are still tallying final votes, given the breakdown of 
Alaska voters, it would be impossible for the outcome to change 
significantly. The election is expected to be certified by the 
lieutenant governor's office near the end of November.

But just the measure passing doesn't mean marijuana is legal quite 
yet. The timeline to lighting up legally is still months out. Even 
from there, the process of getting commercial businesses going will 
be roughly another year in the making.

Here's what we know about legal marijuana in Alaska, a topic on which 
we expect to have more clarity as the process moves forward. Expect 
this to be updated as Alaska Dispatch News continues reporting on pot 
in the Last Frontier.

What does Ballot Measure 2 do?

At its core, Ballot Measure 2 legalized recreational marijuana use in 
Alaska, making the drug legal for those 21 years of age and older. It 
allows the state to create a regulatory system for the substance, 
including creating a marijuana control board, likely to be housed 
with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, and to tax the substance 
at $50 per ounce wholesale. The language of the initiative is closely 
based on the Colorado law that was passed in November 2012, also by 
citizen initiative.

How did we get here?

In January, supporters of marijuana legalization turned in 45,000 
signatures collected over the summer and fall of 2013 to get the 
measure on the ballot, well over the 30,000 required.

 From there the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska 
began working to convince voters that the measure was right for 
Alaska, focusing on the "failures of prohibition" and noting that 
legalizing marijuana would protect youths, provide revenue for the 
state and lead to an end of the black market. The group was primarily 
funded by the Marijuana Policy Project, a national organization that 
advocates for the reform of marijuana laws. The organization donated 
almost $800,000 of the campaign's $900,000 total.

In April, Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No on 2 formed to oppose 
the measure. The group argued that Ballot Measure 2 was too vague in 
its wording, and that passing it would only lead to increases in use, 
additional public safety costs and concerns over local control. Vote 
No prided itself on its grassroots support efforts, particularly its 
funding. While it lagged far behind proponents -- raising just less 
than $150,000 in total -- it was entirely funded by Alaskans.

Voters ultimately approved the measure, passing it 52 percent in 
favor, 48 percent against. Support was highest in the most densely 
populated areas of Anchorage, most of Fairbanks and the surrounding 
areas, and a large portion of rural Alaska communities. Opposition 
centered in conservative parts of the state, including the Matanuska 
Valley and the Kenai Peninsula. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta was one of 
few rural areas that opposed the measure.

Now that the measure has passed, can I get ticketed for weed?

Unless you are a medical marijuana card holder, yes. The laws are 
still on the books, though those laws are complicated. Personal 
possession is still technically illegal per Alaska statutes -- a 
direct conflict with the Ravin v. State of Alaska decision that 
allows for the personal possession of up to 4 ounces of marijuana 
strictly in the home. Per state statutes, you can be charged with a 
misdemeanor for possessing -- even in the home -- up to 1 ounce. 
Anecdotally, this appears to be enforced only in the process of 
investigating other crimes.

The Alaska Department of Law said the new law, once enacted, will not 
be retroactive for pending cases. However, the department is 
assessing how it will handle prosecuting those cases.

So when will marijuana be legal?

The initiative does not become law until 90 days after the election 
is certified. According to the Alaska Division of Elections, the 
target date for election certification is Nov. 28. That means in 
mid-February it will be legal to possess or transport up to 1 ounce 
of marijuana or be in possession of six plants, three of which can be 
mature. People will also be able to give each other up to 1 ounce of 
marijuana, or six immature plants.

Can I sell it?

No. Until a regulatory structure is set up by the state, sales are 
illegal. How it will be enforced and what sort of criminal or civil 
penalties for the period before marijuana retail stores open will 
need to be addressed during the rulemaking process.

Can I use it in public?

Definitely not. Even once the initiative becomes law, public use is 
expressly prohibited. Get caught and you could be fined up to $100.

If I buy marijuana in Washington or Colorado, can I bring it back to 
Alaska after the law goes into effect?

No. Under federal law it is illegal to transport marijuana over state 
lines, even if both of those states allow legalized marijuana.

How will the rulemaking process work?

The Legislature has the authority to create a marijuana control 
board, similar to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which would 
be housed under the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

Per the initiative, the board has 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.

The public will also be able to give input as the regulations are 
crafted, per standard regulatory procedures. Alcoholic Beverage 
Control Board Director Cynthia Franklin said the agency expects 
"intense scrutiny" during that process.

The Legislature can also move to make amendments to the law dealing 
with criminal measures so long as the amendment does not constitute a 
repeal of the law.

If I want to start a marijuana business, how do I do that?

Figuring this out will be the duty of the marijuana control board, 
which will be in charge of dealing with applications for businesses. 
The initiative lays out certain topics that must be addressed by the 
body, including a business application schedule, security 
requirements, labeling, health and safety, and "reasonable 
restrictions" on advertising.

What happens if the Legislature doesn't do anything?

Few politicians publicly supported Ballot Measure 2 and, in theory, 
lawmakers could decide to not act on the initiative. If the 
Legislature fails to enact a marijuana control board or equivalent 
body, control of marijuana businesses falls to local government one 
year after the measure is enacted.

Can I outlaw weed in my community? How will that work?

Under the initiative, communities may outlaw the operation of 
commercial facilities. This includes growing, testing, processing or 
retail establishments. Per the initiative, this will be done via 
ordinance or regulations from local communities, with civil penalties 
for those who violate the restrictions.

However, the initiative does not allow outlawing the personal 
possession of marijuana in communities. Supporters did not include a 
provision similar to Alaska's local option laws banning alcohol 
because of the Ravin v. State of Alaska Supreme Court decision. That 
1975 ruling protects the personal possession of a small amount of 
marijuana in the home. Because of Ravin, it is likely that any local 
option laws allowing "dry" marijuana communities would be found 
unconstitutional if challenged.

If I use marijuana legally, can I be drug tested at work?

Yes. Companies that prohibit marijuana use can (and will likely) 
continue that practice. Nothing in the law prohibits workplace drug testing.

Can I get arrested for a marijuana DUI?

Yes. Driving under the influence of marijuana is still illegal, and 
will continue to remain illegal once the initiative becomes law.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom