Alaska: Marijuana Legalization Backers Turn In Signatures For August Ballot

AlaskaMarijuana

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A group which advocates legalizing marijuana said on Wednesday they've turned in more than enough signatures to qualify for an August ballot vote.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana in Alaska turned in more than 46,000 signatures, about 50 percent more than the roughly 30,000 needed, reports Niraj Chokshi at The Washington Post. If the Alaska Division of Elections approves the signatures, ballot language will be prepared.

The sponsors of the legalization initiative, modeled on Colorado's Amendment 64, said the next step will be to spread the word and garner support. "We'll be taking our message to the voters in lots of different ways," said Tim Hinterberger, one of the measure's three sponsors and a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage's School of Medical Education.

"It's clear to everyone that prohibition is a failed policy," Hinterberger said. "The proposed initiative will take marijuana sales out of the underground market and put them in legitimate, taxpaying businesses."

"Replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of taxation and sensible regulation will bolster Alaska's economy by creating jobs and generating revenue for the state," Hinterberger said, reports Faith Karmi at CNN.

Alaska's voters approved medical marijuana in 1998 with a lopsided 59 percent to 41 percent vote. Authorized patients can grow up to six plants or possess up to one ounce, according to KTUU.

An initiative to legalize recreational marijuana failed by the same margin, 41-59, in 2000.

"We were waiting to see what would be a good time to revisit it and the opportunity arose to have some outside support to help move things along," Hinterberger said. The Alaska advocates got help from the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which played a role in Colorado's successful legalization effort in 2012.

"It's not that the initiative would bring marijuana to Alaska," said Bill Parker, a former Department of Corrections deputy commissioner and one of the initiative's sponsors, reports Michelle Theriault Boots at the Anchorage Daily News. "Marijuana is already in Alaska. It would legalize, regulate and tax it. It would treat it like alcohol."

Kevin Sabet, spokesman for a Massachusetts-based anti-cannabis group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), plans to launch an opposition campaign within the next two months. The group will argue that Alaska's marijuana laws are already liberal enough, and that a state-regulated cannabis indujstry would bring "onerous government relations and extra government influence," Sabet said.

Alaska could become the third state to legalize recreational marijuana, if voters approve. Marijuana sales began in Colorado on January 1, and are expected to begin in Washington state this summer.

The initiative offers guidelines to the Legislature on how to set up regulations governing the production and sale of cannabis, including a $50 per ounce tax, but Hinterberger said the lawmakers will regulate however they please.

High-quality marijuana currently averages almost $300 an ounce in Alaska, according to priceofweed.com.