50 States

50 States: Alaska

By Jon Young

50 States: Alaska

Medical: Yes
Recreational: Yes
Decriminalized: Yes

On November 4, 2014, Alaska became the first “red state" to vote to legalize recreational cannabis following a long and troubled history of policy reform. Now, anyone 21 years and older is allowed to possess up to one ounce and six plants (three of which can be flowering) in the privacy of his or her own home.

“We need to prioritize our law enforcement efforts,” former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin said, “and if somebody's gonna smoke a joint in their house and not do anybody else any harm, then perhaps there are other things that our cops should be looking at.”

Though Palin said she doesn’t support legalization, her sentiments are shared by a majority of Alaskans who passed Ballot Measure 2 by a narrow 52-48 margin, putting lawmakers in a difficult spot as they attempt to direct a measure that nearly 48 percent of voters opposed.

Alaska, the long-time libertarian bastion of the north for those who value privacy and independence, first legalized cannabis 40 years ago in 1975 via the Alaska Supreme Court ruling Ravin v. State. This is not better known because a number of rulings and ballot measures temporarily criminalized and attempted to repeal the ruling, leaving the plant’s legal status as murky at best.

Medical marijuana (MMJ) has been legal in Alaska since 1998 with the passing of Ballot Measure 8, but the law only allowed medical patients to grow their own plants or have a dedicated caretaker who was only allowed to grow for one patient. This made the situation complicated for those who didn’t want to grow or know anyone who would grow for them. The lack of provisions for medical dispensaries led to a reliance on the black or grey markets.

“From 1975 until 1990, Alaska had some of the most reasonable marijuana laws in the nation,” a statement from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska said. “But during the course of the last 23 years, they have become needlessly confusing and inconsistently enforced.”

Measure 2 aimed to clarify this legal minefield by creating the Marijuana Control Board (recently taking over regulatory oversight from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board), that will oversee how marijuana law is implemented in Alaska. One of its main tasks: preparing for cannabis businesses. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, “Measure 2 allows for four types of marijuana businesses,” which are as follows:

  • Marijuana cultivation facilities to grow marijuana for wholesale

  • Marijuana product manufacturing facilities to produce marijuana extracts and products

  • Marijuana testing facilities to check products for quality control before being sold to consumers

  • Marijuana retail stores to sell marijuana and related products and items to adult buyers

There are, however, a few areas of concern for marijuana advocates in Alaska. One is the ban of on-site consumption (such as cannabis clubs), meaning visitors from out-of-state would have to find a private residence to smoke cannabis or face a $100 fine for smoking in public. Two, the definition of public is so broad it includes private parties and weddings. And three, edibles may inadvertently be banned by proposals to limit retailers to selling no consumable product besides marijuana.

The Marijuana Control Board has until November 24 to establish rules and procedures that will govern the roll-out of permits. Legal sales will start in February 2016, but in the meantime, here’s a rundown of what you need to know:

  • It is legal for those 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and six plants (up to three flowering)

  • Cannabis must be used on private property, and plants must be out of sight and reasonably secure

  • It is illegal to sell privately grown, untaxed cannabis, but up to one ounce may be gifted without remuneration to someone 21 or older

  • Property owners have the right to regulate or prohibit use on their property

  • Employers are not compelled to allow the use of cannabis by their employees

  • A $50 dollar per ounce tax will be levied on wholesale growers

  • Local governments have the ability to ban outright the use and sale of marijuana through an ordinance or voter initiative

  • They haven’t yet decided how to utilize tax revenue

Those for and against legal cannabis continue to battle it out in the Last Frontier State, but the momentum remains with anti-prohibition advocates who embrace Alaska’s long history of independent thinking and individual rights.

“I am looking for the time where it’s of no consequence,” said John Collette, a long-time Alaska resident and former black market grower. “It never has been a big deal, and it shouldn’t be a big deal in the future.”

Photo credit: Unsplash.

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