Pubdate: Wed, 12 Nov 2014
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2014 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Mike Dingman
Note: Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in 
Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, 
studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late 90s.


More than a week after the election, we are still waiting for 
definitive results in a few races -- most notably the races for U.S. 
Senate and the governor's office. Those results will become clear 
fairly soon. In the meantime, we have decided to legalize marijuana, 
and now it's time to start figuring out exactly what that means.

The passage of Ballot Measure 2 means that the law becomes official 
90 days after the election is certified and that state regulators and 
lawmakers have nine months to create regulations, perhaps including a 
regulatory agency much like the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The 
act provides that the ABC will be charged with enforcing regulations 
unless a separate Marijuana Control Board is created.

One legislator is out in front of this idea already. Anchorage 
Republican state Rep. Bob Lynn, who was against the passage of Ballot 
Measure 2, has announced that he will be introducing legislation to 
create some regulations. Lynn wants to bar marijuana establishments 
within 500 feet of "any school property (public, private or 
religious) and any recreation or youth center, church or a public park."

Now this doesn't seem too unreasonable -- they should probably follow 
the same rule that alcohol vendors do when it comes to stores near 
schools, which is 200 feet, but as anyone who watches reality shows 
about pawn shops knows, you always start your bid ridiculously high, 
and bid your way down. Rep. Lynn's legislation still has to move 
through the process and could look entirely different on the way out.

Another of Lynn's restrictions, however, caught my eye. He wants to 
forbid anyone convicted of a felony from owning or working in a 
marijuana business.

Now, on the surface, this may seem like a good idea. It could even be 
spun as a way to protect felons from themselves by not allowing them 
be around marijuana.

However, I disagree for a number of different reasons.

First of all, marijuana is no longer illegal. With the legalization 
soon should come the normalization of marijuana. As far as the law is 
concerned, it's now much like alcohol -- hence the name of the 
organization supporting the passage of the law: "The Campaign to 
Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol."

Felons are often given jobs in bars and liquor stores. They are often 
the people who are behind the bar making your favorite drink or 
taking your beer order at the table. The restaurant industry is a 
great starting point for felons getting out of prison and working 
toward a normal life within the rest of society.

Secondly, this legislation does not need to protect felons from 
themselves. Those who have been released to probation and or parole 
already have that level of protection. Some combination of the courts 
and the parole board has created rules for those on probation and 
parole. Often those rules include restrictions on drinking alcohol, 
drinking to excess and use of any illicit drugs, to include 
marijuana. These rules are made based on many factors, including the 
conviction and individualized re-entry plan. These men and women do 
an excellent job of creating and enforcing rules for probationers and 
parolees, and they don't need help from Rep. Lynn's legislation.

Finally, limiting options for felons to find jobs after they are 
released helps nobody. According to the University of Alaska 
Anchorage Justice Center, more than 78 percent of prisoners in the 
state of Alaska are felons, and more than 80 percent of them are 
eventually getting out of prison.

When they are released, they are going to need jobs. The UAA Justice 
Center also says that 1 out of 36 Alaskans are incarcerated. The 
Bureau of Justice Statistics says that 95 percent of state prisoners 
will be released from prison at some point.

Those who have done their time are ready to reintegrate into the 
society that they let down. Many want to go to work and become 
productive members of society, but they already have a tough road 
ahead of them. Finding employment is often a gargantuan task because 
employers are turned off by the concept of hiring someone who has a 
criminal history. Many of these coffee shops, bars, and restaurants 
are a godsend for these adults attempting to re-enter society and 
making a better life for themselves.

To lump everybody who has committed a felony into one group is 
unfair. Prisoners are a microcosm of society. Many are addicts or 
suffering from mental illness and need some sort of support system 
and a job to become productive members of society. Others made one 
really bad decision that altered their lives forever. It seems rather 
hypocritical of us to complain about recidivism rates when we are 
constantly reducing the types of career paths people can find after 
serving a sentence.

Marijuana will soon be legal in Alaska. In the next nine months, we 
will start to see what regulations apply to the sale of the 
substance. This will create a new industry in Alaska and many new 
jobs. Let's have a little more respect for the probation and parole 
system and continue to create opportunities for those reintegrating 
into society to work rather than creating more roadblocks.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom