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Marijuana now legal in Washington, but Alaskans shouldn't get any ideas

Suzanna Caldwell

Recreational marijuana is legally for sale in the state of Washington, and law enforcement officials in Alaska say they aren't bracing for any kind of mass influx of the drug. Still, Alaskans shouldn't get any ideas about importing marijuana to the Last Frontier, even if purchased legally from our neighbor state to the south.

“Our enforcement is pretty strict as it is,” said Dave Schulling, deputy chief of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport police. “We’re not anticipating any less or more.”

Tuesday marked a significant step in Washington’s legalization process, with a few of the 24 newly-licensed stores opening for sales of recreational marijuana. Prices are expected to be steep for the drug, at least initially, given limited supplies.

One of Washington’s first marijuana shops, Top Shelf Cannabis, opened in Bellingham on Tuesday.

Alaska Marine Highway System spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said the system, which docks ferries in Bellingham, does not have any power to enforce state and federal laws. However, if crew members witness or become aware of a crime, proper authorities are notified.

“Since marijuana is still illegal in the state of Alaska and under federal law, AMHS will continue to cooperate with enforcement agencies when necessary,” Woodrow said in an email.

Woodrow did note that while an Alaska ferry is docked in Bellingham, the ferry is still the property of the state of Alaska and subject to Alaska law, which prohibits marijuana. He also said the vessel is regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard and must comply with federal maritime laws.

Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, though recently the Department of Justice ordered prosecutors to stop challenging recreational marijuana users and to instead focus their efforts of prosecuting cartels, criminal enterprises and those who sell marijuana to children.

What happens in Washington when it comes to legalization has particular relevance to Alaska. Not only are the states close geographically, but in November Alaskans will decide for themselves whether to legalize marijuana in an initiative appearing on the general election ballot. If passed, Ballot Measure 2 would make Alaska the third state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana use, behind Washington and Colorado.

But most law enforcement agencies in Alaska are not currently planning to change how they do business, despite legalization in the Lower 48. Spokeswomen for the Alaska State Troopers and Anchorage Police Department -- Alaska’s largest police force -- each said their agencies have no plans to increase enforcement.

“The Alaska State Troopers are not taking any change of action based on laws being enacted in other states,” troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters wrote in an email.

The “Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No on 2” campaign issued a statement Tuesday reminding people that it’s important to look at the “real consequences” of legalization, commercialization and industrialization of marijuana.

“There’s no need for Alaska to rush into this dangerous process without knowing what we’re getting ourselves into,” spokeswoman Kristina Woolston said in the statement.

But the campaign urging Alaskans to vote yes on Ballot Measure 2 disagreed, saying marijuana “prohibition” in Alaska has failed. Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska spokesman Taylor Bickford commended the efforts in Washington, noting that marijuana sales are now being conducted by legitimate businesses, creating new jobs and generating revenue. Bickford said in an email that law enforcement will now have more time to focus on addressing “serious crimes, instead of arresting and prosecuting adults for possessing marijuana.”

“It’s clear that regulating marijuana is working," he said.