Alaska could become the third state to legalize marijuana—as soon as August


A marijuana plant ready for trimming at the Botanacare marijuana store ahead of their grand opening on New Year’s day in Northglenn, Colo. If a vote succeeds, Alaska would join that state and Washington, which have already legalized pot for recreational use. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

A group of activists in favor of legalizing marijuana say they’ve turned in more than enough signatures to qualify for an August ballot vote.

The Alaska Campaign to Regulate Marijuana turned over 46,000 signatures on Wednesday—about 50 percent more than the roughly 30,000 needed. If the state Division of Elections reviews and approves the signatures ballot language will be prepared, according to a state description of the process. The sponsors of the initiative say the next step for them will be to spread the word and garner support.

“We’ll be taking our message to the voters in lots of different ways,” says Tim Hinterberger, one of the 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.”

Alaskan voters approved marijuana for medical use in 1998 in a 59 percent to 41 percent vote. A similar initiative for recreational use of marijuana in 2000 failed by the exact same margin that the medical marijuana measure passed. Hinterberger said he was involved in the earlier effort and that shifting attitudes encouraged him and the other sponsors to try again this year.

“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. He and the other advocates in Alaska got help from, among others, the Marijuana Policy Project which played a key role in ushering along a successful legalization effort in Colorado. In October, Gallup reported that a clear majority of Americans favor legalization — the first time it found such results since tracking began in 1969.

If voters approve the measure, Alaska would become the third state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, joining Colorado and Washington where voters approved similar measures in 2012. Sales of marijuana began in Colorado on Jan. 1 with sales in Washington set to begin in the next few months.

After Alaska, activists are setting their sights on Oregon where they hope to get the issue on the ballot later this year. If not, they say they will push to get it on the 2016 ballot, along with ballots in six other states: Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana and Nevada. Supporters are also hopeful that lawmakers will propose and approve legalization in Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The initiative would offer lawmakers guidelines on how to set up the regulations governing the production and sale of marijuana, including a $50 per ounce tax on the drug. But legislators will be able to regulate however they please, Hinterberger said.

A high-quality ounce of pot costs about $290 in Alaska, based on more than 250 anonymous reports collected at priceofweed.com.

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.
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