By Mark Thiessen Associated Press
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska will be the next battleground in the effort to legalize marijuana.
Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, whose office oversees elections, on Friday certified a ballot initiative application that would make it legal for adults to possess up to one ounce of marijuana.
Supporters will have one year to collect 30,169 signatures from qualified voters across the state to get the question on the ballot. They want to get it done by January and have it on next year’s primary ballot, said petition sponsor Tim Hinterberger.
The effort in Alaska comes after voters in Washington state and Colorado legalized marijuana last year.
“It really seems like the whole mood has radically shifted,” Hinterberger said.
He said the conversation is no longer about whether marijuana should be legalized, and opponents aren’t “trotting out the old propaganda — it’s a gateway, leads to crime and causes brain damage.
“Everybody assumes it’s going to happen, and now it’s just figuring out the details,” he said.
He doesn’t expect it to be different in Alaska.
“Obviously getting it approved by the lieutenant governor’s office is a good step indicating that, that we’re not going to run into roadblocks,” Hinterberger said. “We’re ready to roll.”
It will take about a week for the elections division to prepare the petition booklets. Once that’s done, proponents can begin gathering signatures, Gail Fenumiai, the director of the Alaska Division of Elections, said in an email to The Associated Press.
The proposal would make it legal for those 21 and older to use and possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, though not in public. It also would set out provisions for legal grow operations and establish an excise tax.
If voters ultimately approve the initiative, it will be another chapter in Alaska’s complex history with the drug.
The Alaska Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that adults have a constitutional right to possess and smoke marijuana for personal use in their homes as part of their right to privacy. In the late 1990s, Alaska was one of the first states to allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes.
But in 2004, residents voted down a ballot initiative to legalize recreational use of the drug.
Two years later, a bill was passed criminalizing possession of even small amount of marijuana, putting it at odds with the state Supreme Court’s ruling from 1975. The American Civil Liberties Union sued over the conflict. But in 2009, the high court declined to make a finding, concluding any challenge to the law must await an actual prosecution.
Deputy Attorney General Richard Svobodny said in an email earlier this year to The Associated Press that home-use marijuana cases in Alaska are few because authorities have no reason to get a search warrant unless something else is going on inside a house that attracts their attention.
The proposed initiative includes language that says it’s not intended to diminish the right to privacy interpreted in the 1975 case.
It would also allow adults to have up to six marijuana plants. The proposal would create state-regulated marijuana stores, cultivation facilities, marijuana infused-product manufacturers, and marijuana testing facilities.
All would be overseen by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board unless the Legislature creates a Marijuana Control Board.
Under the proposal, communities could ban pot establishments and employers could maintain restrictions on marijuana use by its employees.
If anyone is caught smoking marijuana in public, they would be subject to a $100 fine, under the proposal.