Spending minimal so far for Alaska pot initiative

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — A ballot measure that would make sales of marijuana legal under Alaska state law has seen little early campaign spending by advocates and none by opponents.

The measure was placed on the Aug. 19 primary ballot by initiative and would follow Colorado and Washington in making marijuana regulation more like alcohol regulation, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Spending on the referendum on Alaska’s oil tax structure has reached more than $4 million this year. The marijuana initiative has attracted about $132,000 in early spending by the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.

Most of the money was devoted to the signature drive that placed the measure on the ballot and hiring a public relations firm. Taylor Bickford of Strategies 360, the Seattle-based public relations firm, said the “yes” campaign will focus on getting voters to the polls because primaries historically have low turnout.

Marijuana legalization failed in 2000 and 2004, but advocates are riding a tail wind of public opinion change, Bickford said.

“The landscape is much different than it was 10 years ago when this issue was being discussed. Public opinion has shifted so rapidly,” he said. “The general lack of opposition (to the initiative) is a reflection of public opinion.”

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, headed by former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., opposes the initiative. The group has listed no campaign spending. Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, which has membership in southeast Alaska, announced last week it would work with Kennedy’s group to fight legalization in Alaska and Oregon.

The ballot measure would continue prohibitions on smoking in public and possession by people under 21. Pot could be sold at state-licensed stores.

State Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, opposes the measure. More people will use marijuana if laws banning it are reversed, he said.

“Some people are going to compare it to alcohol. Alcohol is a problem. I just don’t want to add a problem,” Coghill said. “I’ve spent the last couple of years holding people accountable who misuse alcohol. We’re going to end up with the same problem with the misuse of marijuana.”

State Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, supports the measure. The state has been unable to stop the illegal drug trade, he said, and he considers marijuana less harmful than alcohol.

“We have more than 50 years of failed drug policy. When I was a kid, you could buy drugs in the schoolyard; today they still can,” he said. “We have not had a policy that makes sense.”

The Alaska Legislature likely will not take a side in the debate this year, Guttenberg said. Legislators generally avoid the subject, he said.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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