Alaska: Marijuana Legalization Law Takes Effect Tuesday
In First ‘Red’ State to Legalize Marijuana, Possession and Cultivation Become Legal; Commercial Retail Sales to Begin in 2016
Bipartisan Consensus Accelerates Momentum to Legalize Marijuana and End Drug War
By Steve Elliott
Tomorrow will mark a major step forward in the implementation of Alaska’s marijuana legalization law, as personal cultivation, possession, and consumption become legal. Last November, Alaskans voted 53-47 percent in favor of marijuana legalization, making it the first “red” state to pass such a law.
“First Colorado and Washington, now Alaska and Oregon – and all with levels of support higher than the winning candidates for governor and U.S. Senate achieved in those states,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Legalizing marijuana just makes sense now to voters across the political spectrum and – as we’ll likely see in 2016 – across the country.”
Starting tomorrow, it will be legal for someone 21 years of age or over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes (provided that only three of them are mature at any time), and to share up to 1 ounce of marijuana with someone 21 or over and give them up to six immature marijuana plants.
Private consumption will be completely legal for those 21 and over, though public consumption remains illegal.
"We anxiously await the same public safety improvements from Alaskans that we have already seen in Colorado and Washington," said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "Cops will spend more time going after dangerous criminals and protecting communities, and parents can rest assured that their local marijuana retailer is barred from selling to their children."
Commercial marijuana businesses that grow, process, bake, or sell marijuana products won’t be able to legally operate until spring or summer of 2016. In January, the Alaska Legislature began working to bring existing criminal statutes into line with the voter initiative.
“Marijuana is a less harmful substance than alcohol,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the largest backer of the 2014 ballot measure. “Adults should not be punished simply for making the safer choice, and in Alaska they no longer will be.”
“Most adults use marijuana for the same reasons most adults use alcohol,” Tvert said. “We want them to keep in mind that it carries the same responsibilities.”
“State laws allowing adults to use marijuana are becoming less and less of a novelty,” Tvert said. “It won’t be long before it’s the rule instead of the exception nationwide. Colorado and Washington are proving that regulating marijuana works, and soon Alaska will, too.”
Tuesday marks the beginning of a nine-month rulemaking process during which the regulations for marijuana businesses will be developed and refined. Under the provisions of the voter initiative, the state is expected to begin accepting applications for operating permits by February 2016, a full year from now. This timeline was clearly defined in the voter initiative and, so far, the process is on schedule.
Alaska’s new law is expected to increase law enforcement resources available to focus on dangerous and violent crime. Once retail sales begin next year, the law is also expected to bolster the state’s economy by creating jobs and generating new revenue, as marijuana sales will be conducted by legitimate, tax-paying businesses that test their products and require proof of age.
November’s election solidified drug policy reform’s place as a mainstream political issue, as voters across the country accelerated the unprecedented momentum to legalize marijuana and end the wider Drug War. Marijuana legalization measures passed in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., while groundbreaking criminal justice reforms passed in California and New Jersey.
These successes are boosting efforts already underway in California, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine, Nevada, Arizona and elsewhere to end marijuana prohibition.
Graphic: Cannabis Business Executive