Alaska marijuana legalization initiative certified

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June 22, 2013


By Alex Murray

JUNEAU, Alaska: Following successful ballot measures in Washington and Colorado legalizing recreational marijuana last year, a similar question may find its way to the 2014 ballot in Alaska.

On June 14, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R) certified an application for the Alaska Marijuana Legalization Measure, which if passed would legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by Alaskans aged 21 and over, though consumption in public, currently a class B misdemeanor, would be subject to a $100 fine. Supporters have until June 2014 to obtain 30,169 valid signatures in order for the measure to appear on the ballot.[1][2]

Sponsor Tim Hinterberger, a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said that supporters hope to finish their signature drive by January.[3] He told the Alaska Public Radio Network that the measure would guide the state on regulation and taxation, and would not provide amnesty to previous marijuana offenders.[4]

The legal status of marijuana in the state has wavered for several decades. The Alaska Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that possession of small amounts of marijuana for use in private residences was protected by a constitutional right to privacy. Under the ruling in Ravin v. State, possession and use of up to four ounces of marijuana in the home were free of all criminal penalties, though the sale of the drug remained illegal. Possession of under one ounce in public by adults carried a $100 fine. Voters chose to make all possession of the drug a misdemeanor in 1990, but the Alaska Court of Appeals effectively reversed the statute when deciding Noy v. State in 2003, saying that voters did not have the ability to pass an unconstitutional law. In 2006, the Alaska State Legislature passed a bill again criminalizing the drug; then Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) signed it into law. In 2009, a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the 2006 law was thrown out by the state Supreme Court, which declined to make a decision pending any prosecution under the law.[2][5]

Previous ballot initiatives to decriminalize and legalize marijuana failed in 2000 and 2004. Alaska became a medical marijuana state in 1999 following a successful ballot measure.[4][2]

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