Advocates Eye Legalizing Marijuana in Alaska

Apr 27, 2013

Alaska, known for its live-and-let-live lifestyle, is poised to become the next bat­tle­ground in the push to legal­ize the recre­ational use of mar­i­juana. The state has a com­pli­cated his­tory with the drug, with its high­est court rul­ing nearly 40 years ago that adults have a con­sti­tu­tional right to pos­sess and smoke mar­i­juana for per­sonal use in their own homes. In the late 1990s, Alaska became one of the first states to allow the use of pot for med­i­c­i­nal rea­sons. Then the pen­du­lum swung the other direc­tion, with res­i­dents in 2004 reject­ing a bal­lot effort to legal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana. And in 2006, the state passed a law crim­i­nal­iz­ing pos­ses­sion of even small amounts of the drug — leav­ing the cur­rent state of affairs some­what murky. Sup­port­ers of recre­ational mar­i­juana say atti­tudes toward pot have soft­ened in the past decade, and they believe they have a real shot at suc­cess in Alaska. The state is review­ing their request to begin gath­er­ing sig­na­tures to get an ini­tia­tive on next year’s bal­lot. The pro­posal would make it legal for those 21 and older to use and pos­sess up to 1 ounce of mar­i­juana, though not in pub­lic. It also would set out pro­vi­sions for legal grow oper­a­tions and estab­lish an excise tax. It’s a sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent ver­sion of the failed 2004 bal­lot effort that would’ve allowed adults 21 and older to use, grow, sell or give away mar­i­juana or hemp prod­ucts with­out penalty under state law. “The whole ini­tia­tive, you can tell, is scaled down to be as palat­able as pos­si­ble,” said one of the spon­sors, Bill Parker. If the ini­tia­tive appli­ca­tion is accepted, back­ers will have until Jan­u­ary, before the next leg­isla­tive ses­sion starts, to gather the more than 30,000 sig­na­tures required to qual­ify the mea­sure for the pri­mary bal­lot. The effort could deter­mine whether the pen­du­lum swings back. The Alaska Supreme Court, in its land­mark 1975 deci­sion, found pos­ses­sion of mar­i­juana by adults at home for per­sonal use is con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected as part of their basic right to pri­vacy, though the court made clear it didn’t con­done the use of pot. The laws tight­ened again with a 2006 state law crim­i­nal­iz­ing mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion. The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union sued, say­ing the law con­flicted with the 1975 rul­ing. The state main­tained mar­i­juana had become more intox­i­cat­ing than in the 1970s, a point dis­puted by ACLU. But the high court, in 2009, declined to make a find­ing, con­clud­ing any chal­lenge to the law must await an actual pros­e­cu­tion. Parker said the lack of clar­ity regard­ing mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion is a prob­lem, but he noted police aren’t exactly peek­ing into people’s homes to see if they have the drug. Deputy Attor­ney Gen­eral Richard Svo­bodny said in an email that home-use mar­i­juana cases in Alaska are few because author­i­ties have no rea­son to get a search war­rant unless some­thing else is going on inside a house that attracts their atten­tion. The pro­posed ini­tia­tive includes lan­guage that says it’s not intended to dimin­ish the right to pri­vacy inter­preted in the 1975 case. But it notes that case is not a “blan­ket pro­tec­tion for mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion,” said Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Mar­i­juana Pol­icy Project. “In order to have a sys­tem where indi­vid­u­als can go to a store, buy an ounce of mar­i­juana, drive home, and enjoy it at home, it is nec­es­sary to make up to an ounce of mar­i­juana entirely legal,” Tvert said. Alaska is one of many states mulling changes to mar­i­juana laws. Last fall, vot­ers in Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton state passed ini­tia­tives legal­iz­ing, tax­ing and reg­u­lat­ing recre­ational mar­i­juana. This year, bills were filed in more than half the states to enact a med­ical mar­i­juana law, decrim­i­nal­ize or reduce penal­ties for sim­ple pos­ses­sion, or to tax and reg­u­late mar­i­juana for adult use, accord­ing to the Mar­i­juana Pol­icy Project. How­ever, many of those pro­pos­als died, stalled or will be car­ried over. Tvert said his group is work­ing to pro­mote ini­tia­tives allow­ing recre­ational mar­i­juana in a hand­ful of other states, includ­ing Cal­i­for­nia, Ore­gon, Maine and Nevada. He thinks those states will be ready to pass such a mea­sure in 2016. “Ulti­mately we are start­ing to see the mar­i­juana pol­icy debate shift away from whether mar­i­juana should be allowed or pro­hib­ited and toward how we will treat it,” Tvert said. The U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment has not said how it will respond to the laws in Wash­ing­ton and Col­orado. A bipar­ti­san group of con­gress­men, includ­ing Alaska’s lone U.S. House mem­ber, Don Young, recently intro­duced leg­is­la­tion that would ensure the fed­eral gov­ern­ment respects stat e mar­i­juana laws. For the Repub­li­can Young, it’s a states’ rights issue, his spokesman said by email. Alaska Gov. Sean Par­nell, who con­sis­tently has fought the feds when he believes they’ve over­stepped their bounds, sup­ports a state’s right to estab­lish its own laws and appre­ci­ates Young’s effort, Par­nell spokes­woman Sharon Leighow said. But he also con­sid­ers mar­i­juana a “gate­way drug that can lead to more seri­ous pat­terns of sub­stance abuse and crim­i­nal offenses,” she said by email. He has not stated his posi­tion on the pro­posed ini­tia­tive. Source: Asso­ci­ated Press (Wire) Author: Becky Bohrer, Asso­ci­ated Press Pub­lished: April 26, 2013 Copy­right: 2013 The Asso­ci­ated Press

5bb737152frge570.jpg 150x62 Advocates Eye Legalizing Marijuana in Alaska

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Advo­cates Eye Legal­iz­ing Mar­i­juana in Alaska

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