Alaska News

Alaska law enforcement mulling ramifications of marijuana legalization

Two days after voters approved a measure legalizing recreational marijuana in Alaska, law enforcement personnel are starting to ponder what enforcement of personal possession will look like.

The short answer: Nothing changes, at least for now. Most agencies are still reviewing how enforcement will be adapted -- or not -- when the measure becomes law in early 2015.

"Right now we are trying to analyze the initiative and try to determine what are the steps that need to be taken," said John Skidmore, criminal division director for the Alaska Department of Law. "But I don't have an answer as to what that outcome of that analysis is, only that we are starting to look at those things and to work on those questions."

Skidmore noted that until the initiative goes into law, marijuana criminal statutes are still in effect. The law is not retroactive, and therefore any possession and attempted sales are still illegal until the initiative goes on the books. However, his department is considering pending cases and how it will proceed with them.

"We haven't decided yet," Skidmore said.

Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said once the election is certified, then the agency will begin working with the Alaska Department of Law to clarify what law enforcement and prosecution protocols will be regarding personal possession.

Anchorage Police Department Chief Mark Mew said in an email that it is still early to speculate about how Alaska's largest police force will deal with the issue. Mew said he plans on facilitating discussions in the coming days between various stakeholder groups, including prosecutors and courts, on how to deal with marijuana.

"(APD) won't be deciding anything in a vacuum," he wrote.

Even after the measure is certified by the lieutenant governor's office, under Alaska statutes the law won't take effect until 90 days later. However, when the initiative does become law, likely in mid to late February, then it will be legal for adults 21 and over to possess and transport up to 1 ounce of marijuana and have up to six plants, three of which can be mature. People can give each other up to 1 ounce of marijuana, or up to six immature plants. Smoking in public will still be banned, and offending parties will be subject to up to a $100 fine.

Once the law is enacted, the Legislature has the option to create a Marijuana Control Board, which would be housed under the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. From there, that entity has nine months to craft business regulations that allow commercial businesses to open and operate.

Kalie Klaysmat, executive director of the Alaska Association of Chiefs of Police, noted that there's been plenty of confusion from citizens on how the process works. She said she talked to chiefs who said people have already come into stations wanting a commercial permit for marijuana stores. Not only is that not legal yet, it's unlikely Alaskans would ever go through police to get retail licenses.

"The public doesn't seem to understand what the law is," she said Thursday.

Klaysmat said her organization's marijuana working group plans to meet in the coming days to discuss how to move forward. The group wants to make sure officers are prepared for the impacts of legalization.

"We've said all along that this will increase risks and costs in our communities," she said. "We're going to have find ways to deal with this."

The one agency not experiencing any change? U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska.

Karen Loeffler, U.S. attorney for the District of Alaska, said her office will be watching how the state crafts marijuana regulations, but that marijuana enforcement priorities for her organization have not changed. A memo from the U.S. Department of Justice in August 2013 laid out priorities for federal marijuana enforcement that generally only apply to serious offenses, including preventing distribution to minors and stopping revenue from going to large criminal enterprises or cartels.

"We intend to stick with those priorities," Loeffler said.

Suzanna Caldwell

Suzanna Caldwell is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in 2017.

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