Recreational MARIJUANA: A Third State May Join Colorado And Washington

According to the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska may have an all-time high voter turnout for August's election. That's because legalizing marijuana for recreational use is on the ballot along with the primary for a senate seat and several other highly contested issues. The marijuana legalization ballot initiative is modeled after Colorado's law and would allow individuals who are over 21 to possess an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants. In addition, an adult may transfer an ounce of marijuana to another adult without recrimination.

Similar to Colorado, if approved for recreational use, marijuana would be controlled by Alaska's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board or a new control board specifically created for the control of marijuana. This board would also oversee any marijuana wholesalers and retailers, and a per ounce tax would apply. Like they can with alcohol, individual cities and counties would have control over whether they wish to opt out of the program.

Alaska's legal view of marijuana is unusual. In 1975, the state's supreme court ruled that Alaskans could possess a limited amount of marijuana as long as they kept its use to the privacy of their homes. In 1982, the state legislature allowed individuals to possess four ounces, but in 1990, voters changed that ruling, re-criminalizing the substance. Proponents of legalization suggest that it allows citizens, who are legally allowed to use the drug by virtue of the supreme court ruling, a means of legally purchasing small amounts of marijuana.

The push to legalize marijuana for recreational use is driven by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana, which is supported by the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C. based advocacy group. This group is also backing similar ballot measures in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, and Nevada. The process is gaining momentum in California, where two ballot initiatives are already gathering signatures.

Although California rejected a similar measure in 2010, the national sentiment regarding marijuana has radically softened. For example, in Alaska, 55 percent of voters support the marijuana legalization initiative today even though in 2010 only 43 percent supported it.

Some opponents of the ballot initiative are associated with the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM. SAM is comprised of mental health and public health workers. This group seeks to find a common sense approach to marijuana legislation. SAM would like to prevent public smoking of marijuana, but it does not wish to see personal use criminalized. Instead, SAM would rather possession of a small amount of the drug be a civil offense.

SAM hopes that drug treatment programs can be used more effectively. And, in the interest of safe roadways, they seek to make driving with any amount of marijuana in the system at least a misdemeanor offense. The organization claims to promote policies based on reputable science. To this end, they promote research that leads to "FDA-approved, pharmacy-dispensed, cannabis-based medications."

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