Alaska News

In Girdwood, marking a historic moment with plenty of now-legal pot

GIRDWOOD -- The password to the legalization party was "I get high with a little help from my friends."

On Tuesday, Alaska became the third state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

It turned out to be both a historic moment and a deeply understated occasion. With retail pot sales still at least a year off and public consumption banned, people who marked the moment mostly did so in private.

Anchorage police said they had handed out zero tickets for public consumption of marijuana as of midday Tuesday.

But at one rented condominium up a gravel road in Girdwood, legalization day was cause for an all-out party.

Alaska Green Cross, an organization devoted to cannabis advocacy, hosted the event, billed as a "Thanks and Treats Dinner."

"Come show us how Green and grateful you are to have realized the dream of Legalization," read an online announcement.


People started arriving at the house at 4:20 p.m. sharp to say the password and gain entry to the party.

The crowd of a few dozen ran from young people who'd met each other on the summer music festival circuit to proud Deadheads -- including one in a leather biker vest who carried a poster of Jerry Garcia with him to the party -- to people who'd been drawn to the legalization movement after using cannabis to seek relief from cancer and other ailments.

IDs were checked and shoes left in the hallway. Inside, the air was hazy with smoke. Everyone had brought personal smoking devices, from sleek vaporizer pens to ornate bongs.

Many said they were celebrating not so much a change in their daily lives but what they saw as a sea change in the societal acceptance of marijuana.

While people said the stigma against pot smokers is alive and well, many in this exceptionally unabashed crowd Tuesday had no problem being photographed mid-toke.

"Really, nothing has changed," said Ira Goldberg, adorned in a plastic cannabis-leaf lei and holding a fancy vaporizer. He said he had spent decades following the Grateful Dead before settling in the Mat-Su, where he waits tables part-time. "Except a lot of people are going to make more rules and regulations."

He had some concerns about the public officials making those choices.

"If you've never smoked marijuana, how can you regulate it?" he said.

But Tuesday was enough cause for celebration.

"I'm looking forward to not fearing prosecution," said Darby Andrews, a Girdwood glassblower who makes pipes and is contemplating starting an edibles company. He was in the kitchen making THC-laced chocolate ice cream and tending to a bubbling pot of pasta that would later be served with "green red sauce" and pot-enhanced pesto, as well as garlic bread with cannabis butter.

Over on the couch was Adele Davis, presiding over a coffee table full of individually wrapped homemade marijuana candies and nuggets of marijuana.

Davis said she was there to thank people who worked to set the stage in Alaska for legalization.

"The Yes On 2 campaign cracked the seal on the jar," she said. "But these people have been working to loosen it for decades."

A young woman in Bob Marley earrings and an Alaska Green Cross T-shirt who gave her name as Angel McCabe sat next to her.

McCabe said her grandmother had been a medical marijuana user while sick with cancer.

"I didn't want her to get arrested," McCabe said.

Later, she found relief for anxiety and depression from marijuana. She became a committed volunteer on the campaign. She had moments of doubt that the proposition would pass. Now, she said, she's turned her focus to "keeping the rights we've fought for and not letting our representatives do additional bans we don't want."


By then, every available surface was covered with pot offerings.

Upstairs, a guy known as Mr. Animal tuned his guitar.

Soon, it would be time for dinner and music.

Girdwood resident Randy Larson showed up wearing a garland of fragrant marijuana leaves around a camouflage hat.

A retired environmental safety manager and disabled veteran, Larson said he uses cannabis to alleviate phantom limb pain from his arm amputation, as well as back problems.

Larson recently started an organization called Alaska Trim 4 Vets. He hopes to donate marijuana to veterans who he thinks might find relief from physical and mental scars from it. He had also brought an imposing machine for marijuana extraction, which he hoped to use in the kitchen.

Under the 1975 Ravin court decision, possession of small amounts of marijuana had been legal in Alaska for a long time, he said. But he had never felt quite so free to be open about his use.

"I don't have to hide behind walls anymore."

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.