Alaskans on both sides of Ballot Measure 2 on Thursday asked voters to consider one question: Will legal, regulated sales keep marijuana out of the hands of young people or give them easier access to it?
The answer to that question depends on which campaign you ask.
The two sides presented their cases in dueling press conferences related to the yes campaign's introduction of a coalition of parents in favor of the initiative, which seeks to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana in Alaska for those 21 years and older. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska on Thursday announced the support of 35 Alaska parents and the launch of an ad campaign that will specifically target Alaska moms and dads.
In response, the opposition group, Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No on 2, scheduled a news conference to note that they have plenty of support from parents and to point out the 36 organizations and 27 community leaders and politicians who oppose the measure.
One of those leaders is Dr. George Stewart, a retired pulmonologist, father of five and grandfather of nine, who particularly decried the medical risks associated with marijuana and said he worries over the health impact of increased use.
"I think it makes absolutely no sense at all for a parent to be in favor of passing a law when they then don't want their children to use the product that's involved," Stewart said in a statement. "The best thing is to not pass the law in the first place, and then you have to worry less about your children."
But the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska argues that legalizing marijuana would do a better job at keeping it away, noting that marijuana is already in Alaska and that drug dealers are not limiting their sales to adults over 21.
Kim Kole, a mother of two teenage girls and a high school science teacher, said she supports the measure because she believes marijuana prohibition has failed to keep the substance away from teenagers.
She said her students have told her it's easier for them to get marijuana in schools than it is to get alcohol. Kole said that indicates that alcohol regulation is working and that it's reasonable to believe the same could be done with marijuana.
"Marijuana is prolific in this state and we already have a multimillion-dollar industry being run by criminals in the underground market," she said in a statement. "Ironically, it's probably easier for teenagers to obtain it in schools than it is for responsible adults to get it."
Kole also noted Colorado's tax structure, which has designated marijuana tax revenues to go toward public health, drug prevention and schools. Kole noted that the same could apply to Alaska, potentially offsetting the cost of school bonds taxpayers might otherwise have to consider in the future. That has not been decided in Alaska, though; it is ultimately up to the Legislature to decide where the money could go, since ballot initiatives cannot allocate tax revenue.
Kole, who will be the face of an ad campaign designed to target parents, declined to name the high school where she is employed, but online records show a Kimberley Garner, Kole's previous name, listed as a teacher at South Anchorage High School.
John and Karin Wanamaker, Alaska parents of three, harshly condemned the initiative. They have two teen sons attending West High School and one attending Romig Middle School. They said their sons are in the "exposure period" when they could likely be introduced to marijuana. They don't want legalization to pass because they don't want to send the wrong message -- that marijuana is OK to use.
With all the problems surrounding alcohol, John Wanamaker noted, why consider marijuana?
"One's a legal intoxicant with all kinds of social ills," he said at the press conference. "Do we really need another?"
In an interview after the event, Wanamaker, a principal with Alaska Venture Partners, said when it comes to business, he sees the appeal of some risky start-ups. But he has serious concerns over the scope of Ballot Measure 2 and doesn't think it is a proposition worth passing.
"I invest in progressive ideas," he said. "I'm into pushing the limits. But this is not an issue you want to push."
But Anchorage dad Lloyd Stanfield disagrees. He's a parent and medical marijuana cardholder. He wants to make sure that legalizing marijuana is done responsibly, and he feels this is the best way to do it. He came on board following a tense Tuesday night meeting that he called "inappropriate."
"I just want people to see that there's a responsible way to go about (legalization)," Stanfield said.