Before Colorado and Washington, Alaska became the first US state to legalize recreational marijuana under certain circumstances in the 1970s. However, the law was overturned by ballot initiative in the 1990s. Now, nearly 40 years later, Alaska may once again legalize weed as signatures are currently being gathered to place a pro-pot initiative on the August 2014 primary election ballot.
Activists are attempting to collect 45,000 signatures by the December 1 deadline, which would be 15,000 more than required. They have currently gathered roughly half that total, according to the measure’s chief sponsor Timothy Hinterberger of the University of Alaska Anchorage.
If passed by voters next summer, anyone 21 and older would be permitted to possess up to one ounce of cannabis. Public consumption would still be prohibited. The measure also would establish parameters for cultivation, allowing each person to grow up to six plants – three of which can be mature. Local governments can ban growing and sales but not simple possession.
The measure empowers the Alaska Legislature to create a Marijuana Control Board to regulate retail pot sales – and until such a board's formation, the state's Alcohol Beverage Control Board would handle that responsibility.
Hinterberger was encouraged by the Justice Department’s recent announcement allowing legal marijuana businesses to operate: “I think that shows that we are on the right track in thinking that things are really changing, both in federal policy as well in public sentiment. It eliminates one of the arguments you sometimes hear against an initiative like ours – it doesn't matter what we do locally as a state because the feds will still step in.”
A 1975 Alaska Supreme Court decision (Ravin v. State) legalized small amounts of pot for personal possession, then the state legislature formally permitted four ounces or less in 1982 until voters re-criminalized weed in 1990. Alaska legalized medicinal cannabis in 1998, and is currently one of the ten states the Marijuana Policy Project announced on Monday it will support in its attempts to legalize recreational pot.