Pubdate: Wed, 04 Feb 2015
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2015 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Suzanna Caldwell


As Alaska prepares for marijuana legalization, there are plenty of 
unknowns about what implementation will look like. But for supporters 
of Ballot Measure 2, one thing is clear: A strict timeline was built 
into the voter-passed initiative to guide rule makers and citizens 
through the legalization process.

Starting Feb. 24, personal possession and use of recreational 
marijuana will be legal in Alaska. That date also starts the clock on 
a nine-month countdown for the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to 
begin crafting marijuana regulations.

But that date also starts a two-year countdown to Feb. 24, 2017, when 
the Legislature can, under the Alaska constitution, repeal the entire law.

Among the law's supporters, there is quiet concern that legislators 
and other public officials will attempt to extend the rule-making 
schedule, in effect slowing the process and potentially stopping 

"There is the fear that the more schedule slips, the more it plays 
into the goals of the prohibitionists who want to see it shut down," 
said Bruce Schulte, spokesman for the Coalition for Responsible 
Cannabis Legislation, a group that represents the state's pot industry.

If businesses can't be up and running before the two-year mark, it 
will be easier for lawmakers to invalidate the initiative, which 
passed 53 to 47 percent in the November election.

"There may even be a few legislators who want to (slow it down)," 
Schulte said, "but we've made it clear: Any deliberate or overt 
attempt to do that just looks bad. It just looks like an effort to 
subvert the will of the voters, and we don't think very many 
legislators are really of that mindset."

But Jeff Jessee, CEO of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, 
doesn't quite see it that way. He contends that voters in Alaska 
might not have realized when they voted that they were authorizing 
full-scale marijuana commercialization.

In a Senate State Affairs Committee meeting last week, Jessee warned 
that nine months might not be enough time to complete the rule-making 
process. He suggested that timeline was set up in an effort to 
enshrine legalization.

"Why have (supporters of Ballot Measure 2) insisted on nine months?" 
Jessee told the committee last week. "They know what we know, that if 
they get licensed and into operation before you can sort things out 
here, you can't put the genie back in the bottle."

In a followup interview, Jessee said what's spelled out in Ballot 
Measure 2 constitutes the extreme in ending marijuana prohibition. He 
thinks that voters, if given another choice, would have suggested a 
more modest approach than creating a commercial industry.

Jessee's suggestion is slower implementation. If the regulations 
aren't up to par in two years, he says, it's fully within the 
constitutional right of the Legislature to consider repeal.

"I assume (the repeal option) is a check-and-balance on the people," 
Jessee said. "Now people might not like that, but I presume that's 
why it's there, is that the people may not get it right every time."

Implementation on time

In an interview Friday, initiative co-sponsor Tim Hinterberger said 
it was slightly surreal to see marijuana being taken seriously by the 
Legislature after years of back-and-forth between voters and lawmakers.

"We've come a long way," he said.

He also noted that both Colorado and Washington state have come a 
long way too. In 2012, voters in both states approved referendums 
legalizing marijuana and allowing recreational sales to start in 2014.

Colorado had a similar timeline for drafting its regulations.

Hinterberger said that during drafting of Alaska's ballot measure, 
nine months after vote certification seemed a "reasonable amount of 
time," especially given experiences from Colorado and Washington.

"I can't say there was any carefully reasoned analysis that led to 
those numbers," Hinterberger said. "From the distant-future point we 
were considering this, it seemed like plenty of time."

He still thinks it will be plenty of time. Hinterberger suspects that 
the Legislature appears to be in a rush to get some legislation 
passed before Feb. 24 in an effort to clarify the criminal and 
regulatory rules, but after that, things will occur at a more "relaxed pace."

For the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, there's no question it can 
complete the rules as set out by the initiative. In days following 
the passage of Ballot Measure 2, ABC Board Director Cynthia Franklin 
said it could be done. It's a position the board has expressed to 
both the governor and the public.

"We've staked our position in that we can do it," she said again Monday.

Franklin said her biggest concern for the agency is costs. Currently 
the agency employs 10 people to regulate 1,800-plus alcohol permits.

"We can't regulate the two substances with the same number of people 
and the same bare-bones budget," she said. "We just can't."

Franklin said her staff has already been spending extra time working 
on marijuana, costs that are pushing the agency's budget into the red.

That's another issue that needs to be addressed, she said. Still, she 
said, the agency will be able to hit the timeline.

"When you step back and really look at it from the long view, 
essentially what you're saying is if you can't do it, is that we, as 
a government agency, given two years from Nov. 4, 2014, to February 
2017, can't get anything done in that time frame," Franklin said. "I 
just don't think that's true."

Even Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, doesn't see slowing the 
timeline as a possibility. In an interview last month, she said the 
Legislature should be careful not to "over-legislate," but that 
there's still plenty of work to be done filling gaps in the 
initiative. As the chair of the House Judiciary Committee who will 
likely touch all bills related to marijuana legalization, she said, 
her intent is to see that legislation moves quickly and smoothly.

"My intention is not to slow it down," she said. "The initiative 
spoke clearly on it, and my intention is to honor the will of the people."


Alaska's road to marijuana legalization

Nov. 4, 2014: Voters statewide approve Ballot Measure 2, 53 percent 
to 47 percent.

Nov. 24, 2014: Vote certified by Division of Elections, begins the 90 
day countdown until the measure goes in to effect.

Jan. 20, 2015: Alaska Legislature gavels in. Two bills related to 
marijuana are pre-filed leading up to the opening day of session, 
with more expected.

Feb. 24, 2015: Ballot Measure 2 becomes law. Personal-possession 
portions of the measure are effective immediately. The Alcoholic 
Beverage Control Board, unless another board is created by the 
legislature, can begin crafting marijuana regulations. Under the 
initiative, the board has nine months to complete them.

April 19, 2015: Legislature scheduled to adjourn. Legislation will 
likely impact the creation of marijuana rules.

Nov. 24, 2015: Deadline for the board to adopt marijuana regulations. 
If not adopted by this date, local governments have the option of 
establishing their own rules. The final regulations package will be 
submitted to the governor's office and Department of Law for review 
and approval.

Feb. 24, 2016: Board must start accepting applications for marijuana 
businesses and must act on them within 90 days. If the board has not 
adopted regulations, applications may be submitted directly to local 
regulatory authorities.

March 26, 2016: Tentative effective date of regulations; effective 
date will be 30 days after the Lt. Governor's Office files the 
approved regulations.

May 24, 2016: Initial marijuana industry licenses expected to be 
awarded. Marijuana businesses will be able to legally begin operations.

Feb. 24, 2017: Per Alaska's constitution, the state legislature can 
repeal the ballot measure.

Sources: ABC Board Marijuana FAQ, Ballot Measure 2, Tribune Media Services
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom