JUNEAU, AK — Marijuana reform activists in Alaska took the first steps Tuesday towards getting a bill on the 2014 ballot that, if approved by voters, would allow the recreational use of marijuana by adults 21 or older.
Activists presented proposed draft language and over 100 signatures to the Alaska lieutenant governor’s office Tuesday for a ballot initiative that would tax and regulate marijuana sales and allow Alaskans 21 or older to grow marijuana for personal use.
If Alaska officials approve the draft bill’s language following a 60-day review, supporters of the bill will have until January 2014 to gather signatures from another 30,169 registered voters to place the iniatitive on the 2014 ballot according to Steve Fox, the national political director of the Marijuana Policy Project
Alaska’s current marijuana laws, while more liberal than many other states, remain somewhat in limbo thanks in part to a 1975 court ruling. Presently, possession of up to a quarter pound of cannabis in your home in Alaska, while not legal, carries no criminal penalty or fine.
The Alaska Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that possession of under four ounces of marijuana in the home was protected from criminal sanction by the state constitution’s right to privacy, effectively removing any penalties – criminal or otherwise -for possession of marijuana in the confines of a person’s private residence.
However, in 2006, the legislature passed a bill, later signed by the governor, attempting to re-criminalize marijuana legislatively. A lawsuit challenging the new law was thrown out on procedural grounds leaving the state of the law somewhat in flux.
Notwithstanding the legal murkiness regarding possession in one’s home, possession of one to four ounces of marijuana outside the home is a misdemeanor subject to 90 days incarceration and a fine of up to $1,000. Alaska has been a medical marijuana state since March 4, 2009.
Alaska voters rejected a marijuana legalization initiative in 2004, with only 44 percent of the state’s voters backing the idea.
In 2014, a better result at the ballot box is expected, as the nation’s attitude towards reforming marijuana laws has shifted significantly in the decade since Alaska last attempt to end marijuana prohibition.
Rep. Don Young (R), Alaska’s only US Congressman, is among the bi-partisan co-sponsors of the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, introduced last week. The bill, if passed, would end the enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that have either legalized it or adopted medical marijuana laws.
Mike Anderson, Rep. Young’s press secretary, said the bill “is particularly important for a state such as Alaska.”
A national survey released last week by the Pew Research Center found that 60% of Americans believe the federal government should not enforce federal laws prohibiting the use of marijuana in states where it is legal.