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Alaska: The Next State to Legalize Recreational Sales?

Beautiful picture of mountains in Alaska, the next state to possibly legalize, reflected in a large lake in early spring.

Politics

Alaska: The Next State to Legalize Recreational Sales?

On January 8, the Alaska Campaign to Regulate Marijuana submitted roughly 46,000 signatures—a whopping 16,000 more than necessary—to put marijuana legalization on the 2014 ballot. Although many other states are hoping to join Colorado and Washington State, Alaska’s August primary automatically puts it ahead of other states that will be voting on legalization in the 2014 cycle.

According to the 2010 Census, the median age in Alaska is 33.8, making it the third most youthful state in the nation, following Utah and Texas. With such a young and marijuana-friendly population, supporters have a very high chance of making Alaska the third state to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes since 2012.

Marijuana decriminalization is a familiar proposition for Alaska, as it is actually the only state to have ever legalized the drug in the past. Following a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court decision, adults were allowed to carry up to four ounces of pot and grow 24 plants. It wasn’t until 1990 that marijuana was criminalized—a ruling that was overturned by the Alaska Court of Appeals in 2003. However, in 2006, the state once again criminalized the drug.

As of now, the state allows medicinal marijuana users to grow up to six plants and possess up to one ounce. It seems that Alaskans have always been temperamental in considering the legality of recreational pot. In recent years though, it has not just been the youth rallying for legalization—many officials have taken notice of the industry’s economic benefit.

Right now, roughly 85% of Alaska’s state budget is supplied by oil revenues, meaning much of Alaska’s oil industry is dependent on world oil prices. While it also leads the nation in commercial fishing—especially salmon—the land seriously lacks in agriculture, ranking last in the nation in number of farms and farm products. Government positions seem to be Alaska’s major source of employment. In a state with such a small and youthful population, marijuana legalization could potentially create a new industry to boost this younger generation as it matures.

Of course, not everybody is happy about the likelihood of a win. Anti-pot campaigners still fear that legalization would corrupt Alaska’s youth by promoting the buying and selling of marijuana. But it is already being bought and sold in Alaska—just not legally. “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,” says Tim Hinterberger, one of the initiative’s three major sponsors.

Similar to the proposal that was recently passed by Colorado, Alaska’s initiative legalizes the cultivation, sale and consumption of recreational marijuana only for adults over the age of 21. Comparable to the consequences of underage drinking, the initiative emphasizes that the purchase and consumption of marijuana for any persons under the age of 21 will be legally punishable. It also suggests that the presentation of false identification alone should have a penalty of up to $400. Not to mention, the consumption of marijuana in public will still be illegal, and punishable by a $100 fine.

As of now, the proposal places control of cannabis in the hands of the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, instead of creating an entirely new government agency dedicated specifically to the regulation of marijuana. Eventually, the initiative backers hope to follow in Colorado’s footsteps and create an agency, similar to the Marijuana Enforcement Division. By forming this department, there is likely to be a slough of growth in the public employment sector.

But, it is the creation of marijuana cultivation facilities, marijuana testing facilities, marijuana infused-product manufacturers and marijuana retail stores that will truly bolster Alaska’s workforce. By allowing the buying and selling of marijuana, legitimate businesses will thrive, possibly presenting an incredible opportunity for distributors to operate regulated and in the open.

The proposal offers lawmakers guidelines on how to regulate the production and sale of marijuana, including a $50 per ounce tax on the drug. According to a submission on priceofweed.com, a medium quality quarter ounce of weed may cost $125 in Petersburg, Alaska—and that’s not even high quality. With these high prices, combined with such a high tax per ounce, Alaskan officials have the ability profit from an already booming business.

It is clear that marijuana prohibition has failed, achieving nothing more than pushing the lucrative business underground. The demographics in Alaska are already favorable to reforming marijuana policy, so a win in August isn’t expected to shock voters. Should the initiative supporters win Alaska, they are expected to bring their proposal to Oregon. Many other states, like California, Maine and Arizona, are also hoping to vote on legalization in 2014. If not, activists are hoping that Colorado, Washington and Alaska will set the example for the 2016 ballot.

By Sabrina Raine

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