Minimum wage and pot are now expected to be on Alaska’s November ballot

April 22, 2014

A fully budded marijuana plant. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Alaska’s November ballot is expected to be a little more crowded.

A trio of initiatives, including ones to regulate marijuana like alcohol and hike the minimum wage, are expected to be pushed from August to November, a move that could encourage greater turnout on a day that already will play host to Democratic Sen. Mark Begich’s high-profile reelection bid. That seat ranks seventh among the 10 expected to change parties. The presence of initiatives on a ballot has been found to boost midterm voter turnout.

The initiatives are expected to shift from August to November because of a constitutional rule requiring 120 days between the end of the legislative session and votes on citizen initiatives. The legislature failed to gavel out by midnight on Sunday evening, meaning legislators worked into Monday, the 120th day before the scheduled Aug. 19 vote. One initiative would legalize pot for recreational use, while another would lift the minimum wage from $7.75 to $8.75 next year and by another dollar in 2016, after which it would continue to be adjusted for inflation. A third citizen initiative originally scheduled for August would impose restrictions on certain large mining projects.

If passed, the marijuana measure would make Alaska the third state to legalize pot, following voter initiatives in Colorado and Washington. Alaskans approved medical marijuana in 1998 by a 59 percent to 41 percent vote. A 2000 initiative for recreational marijuana failed by the exact same margin that medical marijuana passed. Tim Hinterberger, who was behind that failed effort, said 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, a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage’s School of Medical Education, told The Post earlier this year. 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.

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.

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