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Alaska marijuana legalization initiative: Supporters, opponents rally

Laurel Andrews

With two months left to sway Alaska voters, the dueling groups in support and opposition of a ballot measure to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana in Alaska are ramping up their campaigns, and Friday they offered glimpses of what’s to come in the weeks leading to the general election.

The group backing the initiative -- the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska -- gave insight into an upcoming advertising campaign and a new website to be unveiled in early September.

Meanwhile, opposition group “Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No on 2” said new constituency groups were in the formation stages, and touted recent endorsements by businesses and organizations.

The campaigns are setting their sights on Nov. 4, the day Alaskans will cast their votes on Ballot Measure 2. The initiative would legalize recreational use of marijuana for adults aged 21 and older and levy a tax of $50 per ounce of pot. Should it pass, the eight-page initiative would leave much of the regulation-making process in the hands of the state. The state would have nine months to craft these regulations, including labeling and health and safety guidelines and security requirements for marijuana businesses.

Summer polling shows Alaskans split on whether to legalize. Public Policy Polling data released in early August showed that of 673 voters polled, 44 percent were in favor of the initiative, 49 percent opposed and 8 percent unsure.

Those numbers show a slight decrease in support since May, when PPP showed 48 percent in favor, 45 percent opposed, and 7 percent unsure.

Deborah Williams, deputy treasurer of Vote No on 2, said the August poll was evidence that public support for the initiative is wavering.

Campaign to Regulate spokesperson Taylor Bickford disagreed. “We aren’t concerned at all. Our internal polling tells a different story,” he said.

‘Talk it up Alaska’

Bickford said Friday, with the primary election in the books, the Campaign to Regulate is now looking to mobilize the volunteer base it has assembled during the summer -- “hundreds, if not thousands,” of Alaskans, he said.

A new campaign, “Talk it up Alaska,” will encourage supporters to do exactly that -- talk to their friends and family about why they support regulating marijuana.

“It’s often hard for people to talk about this issue,” Bickford said.

A major component of the new campaign is a new website, TalkItUpAlaska.org. That website will provide supporters with a comprehensive resource database. It’s set to go live in early September, he said.

The website will host an online phone bank pulled from the campaign’s database, allowing volunteers to call voters directly. Another section will compile information on canvassing, public and private events, and general volunteer opportunities. Downloadable fliers, campaign merchandise, and online fundraising tools will also be available, among other resources.

Alaskans will see online advertising for “Talk it Up Alaska,” and potentially “offline” too, such as on city buses, Bickford wrote in an email. The first ad will encourage supporters to “come out” to parents on why they support marijuana legalization.

Come October, Alaskans will see and hear the Campaign to Regulate’s ads on television and radio, Bickford said. The campaign has spent around $500,000 to reserve that air time.

That represents a huge portion of the $700,000 in contributions the Campaign to Regulate has filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Most of the campaign’s donations have come from the national group Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington, D.C.

Vote No on 2 has criticized the group’s influx of money from the Marijuana Policy Project, saying that outsiders are pushing marijuana commercialization on the state. Bickford said Friday that such criticism was simply a distraction.

‘Tremendous momentum’

Meanwhile, Vote No on 2 had filed $40,487 in contributions as of Friday, according to APOC. The largest donation, $25,000, came from Chenega Corp., an Alaska Native village corporation.

Spokesperson Charles Fedullo said the group had counted roughly 80 to 100 volunteers in its ranks.

Deputy treasurer for Vote No on 2, Deborah Williams, said Friday “tremendous momentum” was building to defeat the ballot measure.

Constituency groups working within Vote No on 2 are “in the formation stage,” Williams said. Those include “Attorneys Against Ballot Measure 2,” “Physicians Against Ballot Measure 2,” and “Athletes Against Ballot Measure 2,” the latter being spearheaded by Alaska Olympian Rosey Fletcher.

Karen Compton, a stay-at-home mother of two, is heading “Mothers Against Ballot Measure 2.” So far the group is comprised of a handful of “influential moms,” Compton said. The group isn’t trying to raise money, but would be using social media to get its message out and talking with various organizations about its position.

As part of Vote No on 2, Compton said the group’s role is to help mothers identify with the campaign. “I think people identify (with a group) when they see people like them or people they know who have taken a stand,” she said.

Meanwhile, numerous organizations continue to come out against the initiative. The Alaska Republican Party passed a resolution in May opposing the ballot measure. The Alaska Chamber of Commerce issued a resolution in opposition in late August. The Alaska Conference of Mayors, Doyon Ltd., and Alaska Asthma Coalition are among the other groups that have come out in opposition of the measure.

Bickford said the Campaign to Regulate wasn’t surprised, or concerned, by the endorsements. “Ultimately, it won’t be politicians and business groups and organizations deciding this issue,” he said. He noted the ballot measure endorsements from the Alaska Libertarian Party and the Alaska Democratic nominee for U.S. House of Representatives, Forrest Dunbar, among others. 

In the weeks ahead, Vote No on 2 will be “getting the word out through community forums, through one-on-one conversations, (and) through the debates that are coming up,” Williams said. 

Eight public hearings on the initiative will be held in the month of September, in Nome, Barrow, Juneau, Ketchikan, Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Bethel and Fairbanks. The complete schedule is available on the lieutenant governor’s website.