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Anchorage police chief speaks out on marijuana ballot initiative

The chief of Alaska's largest police department said Thursday he believes legalization of marijuana would undoubtedly raise costs in the department he oversees.

Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew responded to a survey from the Alaska Association of Chiefs of Police Thursday, adding that in addition to increased costs associated with training officers to be more aware of marijuana impaired drivers, the legalization will conflict with officers' sworn oath. As chief of the department, he said, he does not support the ballot initiative that would make Alaska the third state in the nation to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

Mew said officers pledge their allegiance to local, state and federal laws when they take their oath. He said the conflict between federal marijuana laws and state would put officers in conflict with that pledge when investigating marijuana related incidents.

"I'd fire an officer for violating their oath," Mew said Thursday. "This is a slippery slope."

Mew also had concerns about the health and social implications of legalizing the drug. He said Colorado is still tackling many issues related to legalization and that he would like to learn more about those before Alaska considers legalization.

On Tuesday, AACOP said local law enforcement agencies would spend approximately $6 million next year if the ballot initiative passes. Mew did not know immediately how much it would cost the department. APD spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said the department had not yet calculated the figure.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska, which crafted the initiative language and has been working to pass the legalization measure, quickly condemned the report. The campaign notes that the costs of imposing marijuana "prohibition" costs the state $14 million a year, according to a 2013 ACLU report. They add that the state will generate million in tax revenue if the initiative is passed, which could go toward offsetting increased costs. However, that would take an act of the Legislature, since money cannot be allocated through ballot initiative process.

The issue is set to go to a vote on the November general election ballot.