Alaska Next State to Vote on Legal Weed

The Alaskan Secretary of State's Office has certified that over 30,000 valid signatures from 30 of 40 House districts have been collected to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the August 19 primary ballot. (Alaska is unique among initiative states in that it places the language before primary voters instead of the general election in November).

Tim Hinterberger, the chief petitioner for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska, turned in more than 48,000 signatures, with 31,593 found to be valid. The validity rate of about 79 percent is lower than previous initiatives in Alaska, but far greater than the two-thirds rule-of-thumb most campaigns rely on.

The Alaska Initiative mirrors much of the legalization in Colorado. Adults over 21 could possess an ounce of marijuana and grow three mature and three immature plants. Giving marijuana and plants to other adults for no remuneration will be legal as well, but public consumption will get you a $100 fine. A marijuana market will be established with producers, processors and retailers; however, localities will be able to ban marijuana businesses. Taxes will be capped at $50 per ounce.

Alaska has had an interesting history with marijuana legalization. In 1975, a lawyer named Irwin Ravin got himself arrested with weed to challenge the state's prohibition of it. The state Supreme Court, in Ravin v. State, decided that Alaska's constitutional right to privacy protects adults over 18 for the possession of up to four ounces of marijuana and cultivation of up to 25 cannabis plants in the home.

In 1990, federal Drug Czar Bill Bennett helped local anti-pot activists get a re-criminalization measure on the ballot, which passed with 54 percent of the vote. In 2000, pro-pot forces placed the Alaska Marijuana Decriminalization Initiative on the ballot to restore the Ravin possession rights, but it lost with only 41 percent of the vote. But in 2003, the Alaska Court of Appeals in Noy v. State ruled that a voter initiative cannot criminalize a constitutionally-protected right, and the rights of possession and cultivation under Ravin were restored.

Legalization was tried again in 2004 with the Alaska Legalize Marijuana Act, but it failed as well with just 44 percent of the vote. In 2006, the legislature reduced the possession limit to one ounce and it remains to be tested in court whether they have the authority to do that.

This current legalization plan makes clear that it does not intend to replace or redefine any rights held by adults 18 and older under Ravin, so while it would legalize an ounce and six plants in the home, it seems like a quarter pound and 25 plants will still be constitutionally acceptable. And the chances look good for its passage. Poll numbers on legalization from 2010 to 2013 have jumped from 43 percent to 54 percent in Alaska.

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