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National group joins budding opposition to Alaska pot legalization initiative

Laurel Andrews

Opposition to the marijuana legalization initiative in Alaska will ramp up in coming months.

Kevin Sabet, co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), said Monday that the organization was approached by a “handful of leaders” in Alaska's medical and scientific communities expressing their concern over the legalization of marijuana in Alaska.

“This is all homegrown,” Sabet said. He declined to name the Alaskans who contacted his group, but said that they would be available in coming months.

SAM describes itself as a project of the Policy Solutions Lab, a consulting firm led by Sabet. It opposes incarceration of marijuana users and legalization of marijuana, a move that Sabet said would “normalize” marijuana smoking for minors, negatively affect working environments, bring stoned drivers to the roadways, and create onerous government regulations.

The group is governed by a board of directors who live in the Lower 48, from Colorado to Massachusetts, including former congressional delegate from Rhode Island Patrick Kennedy, and Daily Beast columnist David Frum. The organization says it has affiliates in 19 states, including Alaska. Sabet said the organization launched a year ago when Kennedy joined as co-founder and is all-volunteer. The first blog post on SAM's website was made in November 2012.

Opposition is starting up in response to an initiative to legalize marijuana being evaluated for certification to be placed on Alaska's Aug. 19 ballot. Last week, the Alaska Campaign to Regulate Marijuana handed over more than 45,000 signatures in support of a petition to tax and regulate recreational marijuana use in the state. If certified, the initiative will be brought before primary election voters.

“It’s pretty clear to most Alaskans that prohibition has failed,” initiative supporter Tim Hinterberger said last week.

The eight-page act was drafted by a team from Alaska and Colorado that includes several attorneys, Hinterberger said, with the language based largely on Colorado’s law. In January, Colorado became the first state to fully legalize marijuana. Washington state is slated to begin allowing legal recreational marijuana sales in June.

Sabet said that SAM was not active in opposing either the Colorado or Washington marijuana initiatives. "We may be coming out of the gate late," he said. 

Alaska’s act would restrict and regulate the sale of marijuana to adults aged 21 years or older. Marijuana would be taxed at $50 per ounce. Proponents say that the act would control sales, bring revenue to the state, and decrease black-market sales of a drug they say is less harmful than alcohol.

Sabet called the proposed regulations a “façade. They’re not really going to be regulating anything. There’s still going to be an underground market,” Sabet said. He likened marijuana legalization to the "new version of big tobacco."

"We're seeing big marijuana," Sabet said. 

For now, SAM is creating its game plan for Alaska, but no specifics are available yet. Sabet said they will be trying to “contribute to a more balanced discussion."

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com. Follow her on Twitter @Laurel_Andrews