Mike Dingman: Anti-marijuana scare tactics won't fool Alaskans

Mike Dingman

Hardcore drugs are about to be legal in Alaska!

Well, no, actually, they are not. However, if you read the propaganda being released by the group "Big Marijuana. Big Mistake." you might think that is the case.

By the way, if you think it's ironic some of those who rail against the phrase "big oil" are embracing the phrase "big marijuana" -- you're not alone.

In November, Alaskans will make a decision about the legalization and regulation of recreational use of marijuana. The voter initiative is very similar to the laws that have passed in Washington and Colorado.

Basically, Alaska's initiative would legalize and regulate the sale and use of marijuana in Alaska. It would allow individuals to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana for personal, recreational use. It would also let businesses sell marijuana and allow the state to levy taxes on those sales at the wholesale level.

Polling numbers are looking very positive for the initiative. A February Public Policy Polling survey showed 55 percent in favor of the measure with only 39 percent opposed, which is why the opposition is using a pretty common tactic for someone fighting the losing side of a battle - scare tactics.

The "Big Marijuana. Big Mistake." website includes a dramatic presentation that attempts to equate marijuana use with that of hard drugs. It shows photos of very rare types of marijuana use that make it look like a more serious drug.

It shows rooms that look like meth labs, butane torches being used to smoke marijuana and other images intended to put people in fear of marijuana.

The problem with that is that we are Alaskans -- we already know marijuana.

The opposition website also has a section that implies that passing this legislation would disallow "dry" marijuana villages, as some choose now with alcohol. The Alaska Supreme Court has already disallowed that -- it has nothing to do with the initiative. Thanks to the Court's decision in Ravin v. Alaska, there is already quasi-legality to the possession of marijuana in your own home.

The court ruled in that case that in order for the state to intrude into a person's privacy, it has an obligation to show a "legitimate government interest."

The court stated, "Here, mere scientific doubts will not suffice. The state must demonstrate a need based on proof that the public health or welfare will in fact suffer if the controls are not applied."

Even if local communities wanted to pass laws that were similar to ones that ban home brewing or alcohol possession, in the case of marijuana, Ravin would still trump those laws.

Believe it or not, there is already marijuana use happening within the villages, and the Ravin decision already disallows law enforcement from running in and locking people up for personal marijuana use in their homes. That has nothing to do with this initiative.

All fear tactics and misdirection aside, being against the marijuana initiative is a perfectly reasonable stance. There are plenty of rational arguments in opposition to allowing the regulation of marijuana in Alaska.

However, many of the arguments currently being made are far from rational.

Conservative talk radio hosts and their callers act as if this legislation would introduce marijuana to Alaska.

Anyone who has been in the state for more than five minutes understands that Alaska has had a relationship with marijuana for some time now. Let's just move past that notion, shall we?

"What will we do when people are driving on the streets high on marijuana?"


Are there actually people under the impression there aren't people driving under the influence of marijuana right now? Police departments have a way to test for these situations and can arrest a person for a DUI, just as they would for those who think it's cool to down beer after beer and then jump behind the wheel.

The Matanuska Valley was once known for having some of the best weed in the country, but this initiative is going to introduce Alaskans to marijuana?

Not likely.

All of a sudden -- they claim -- Alaska won't be able to find qualified employees for some jobs because they will all fail drug tests. Once again, because they clearly feel that this initiative will somehow introduce Alaska to marijuana.

Here is some breaking news -- much like Bo knows football -- Alaskans know marijuana, and have for a long time. We also can't really be convinced that it is something that it's really not, no matter how hard anyone tries.

There is nothing wrong with arguing that legalizing and regulating marijuana in Alaska is a bad idea. It's a perfectly legitimate argument. Worried that kids will start to think that it's an acceptable drug for them, or that legalization will make it easier to get into kids' hands?

That's fine.

Make that argument. Debate the points that help support your fears. However, keep the over-the-top rhetoric and scare tactics on the other side of the door in this debate. Let's have an open, honest, reasonable debate about how we want to handle marijuana in Alaska.

Mike Dingman, a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage, is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s. Email michaeldingman@gmail.com.


Mike Dingman