After months of debate and decades of semi-legal status, Alaskans voted Tuesday to approve Ballot Measure 2, an initiative legalizing recreational marijuana in Alaska. By approving the measure, Alaska became the fourth state to approve use of the substance, part of a national tide of states considering similar laws.
As of Friday, the measure was ahead by more than 9,600 votes. While other races are still tallying final votes, given the breakdown of Alaska voters, it would be impossible for the outcome to change significantly. The election is expected to be certified by the lieutenant governor's office near the end of November.
But just the measure passing doesn't mean marijuana is legal quite yet. The timeline to lighting up legally is still months out. Even from there, the process of getting commercial businesses going will be roughly another year in the making.
Here's what we know about legal marijuana in Alaska, a topic on which we expect to have more clarity as the process moves forward. Expect this to be updated as Alaska Dispatch News continues reporting on pot in the Last Frontier.
Table of Contents
What does Ballot Measure 2 do?
At its core, Ballot Measure 2 legalized recreational marijuana use in Alaska, making the drug legal for those 21 years of age and older. It allows the state to create a regulatory system for the substance, including creating a marijuana control board, likely to be housed with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, and to tax the substance at $50 per ounce wholesale. The language of the initiative is closely based on the Colorado law that was passed in November 2012, also by citizen initiative.
How did we get here?
In January, supporters of marijuana legalization turned in 45,000 signatures collected over the summer and fall of 2013 to get the measure on the ballot, well over the 30,000 required.
From there the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska began working to convince voters that the measure was right for Alaska, focusing on the "failures of prohibition" and noting that legalizing marijuana would protect youths, provide revenue for the state and lead to an end of the black market. The group was primarily funded by the Marijuana Policy Project, a national organization that advocates for the reform of marijuana laws. The organization donated almost $800,000 of the campaign's $900,000 total.
In April, Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No on 2 formed to oppose the measure. The group argued that Ballot Measure 2 was too vague in its wording, and that passing it would only lead to increases in use, additional public safety costs and concerns over local control. Vote No prided itself on its grassroots support efforts, particularly its funding. While it lagged far behind proponents -- raising just less than $150,000 in total -- it was entirely funded by Alaskans.
Voters ultimately approved the measure, passing it 52 percent in favor, 48 percent against. Support was highest in the most densely populated areas of Anchorage, most of Fairbanks and the surrounding areas, and a large portion of rural Alaska communities. Opposition centered in conservative parts of the state, including the Matanuska Valley and the Kenai Peninsula. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta was one of few rural areas that opposed the measure.
Now that the measure has passed, can I get ticketed for weed?
Unless you are a medical marijuana card holder, yes. The laws are still on the books, though those laws are complicated. Personal possession is still technically illegal per Alaska statutes -- a direct conflict with the Ravin v. State of Alaska decision that allows for the personal possession of up to 4 ounces of marijuana strictly in the home. Per state statutes, you can be charged with a misdemeanor for possessing -- even in the home -- up to 1 ounce. Anecdotally, this appears to be enforced only in the process of investigating other crimes.
The Alaska Department of Law said the new law, once enacted, will not be retroactive for pending cases. However, the department is assessing how it will handle prosecuting those cases.
when will marijuana be legal?
The initiative does not become law until 90 days after the election is certified. According to the Alaska Division of Elections, the target date for election certification is Nov. 28. That means in mid-February it will be legal to possess or transport up to 1 ounce of marijuana or be in possession of six plants, three of which can be mature. People will also be able to give each other up to 1 ounce of marijuana, or six immature plants.
Can I sell it?
No. Until a regulatory structure is set up by the state, sales are illegal. How it will be enforced and what sort of criminal or civil penalties for the period before marijuana retail stores open will need to be addressed during the rulemaking process.
Can I use it in public?
Definitely not. Even once the initiative becomes law, public use is expressly prohibited. Get caught and you could be fined up to $100.
If I buy marijuana in Washington or Colorado, can I bring it back to Alaska after the law goes into effect?
No. Under federal law it is illegal to transport marijuana over state lines, even if both of those states allow legalized marijuana.
How will the rulemaking process work?
The initiative assigns authority to regulate marijuana to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, however, the Legislature has the authority to create a marijuana control board, similar to the ABC board, which would be housed under the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.
Per the initiative, the board has nine months to craft regulations surrounding marijuana establishments. Those regulations will likely be in place in November 2015. The board will then begin accepting business applications in February 2016 and begin issuing business licenses no later than May 2016.
The public will also be able to give input as the regulations are crafted, per standard regulatory procedures. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Director Cynthia Franklin said the agency expects "intense scrutiny" during that process.
The Legislature can also move to make amendments to the law dealing with criminal measures so long as the amendment does not constitute a repeal of the law.
If I want to start a marijuana business, how do I do that?
Figuring this out will be the duty of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board or future marijuana control board, which will be in charge of dealing with applications for businesses. The initiative lays out certain topics that must be addressed by the body, including a business application schedule, security requirements, labeling, health and safety, and "reasonable restrictions" on advertising.
What happens if the Legislature doesnt do anything?
Few politicians publicly supported Ballot Measure 2 and, in theory, lawmakers could decide to not act on the initiative. If the Legislature fails to enact a marijuana control board or the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board fails to create regulations, control of marijuana businesses falls to local government one year after the measure is enacted.
Can I outlaw weed in my community? How will that work?
Under the initiative, communities may outlaw the operation of commercial facilities. This includes growing, testing, processing or retail establishments. Per the initiative, this will be done via ordinance or regulations from local communities, with civil penalties for those who violate the restrictions.
However, the initiative does not allow outlawing the personal possession of marijuana in communities. Supporters did not include a provision similar to Alaska's local option laws banning alcohol because of the Ravin v. State of Alaska Supreme Court decision. That 1975 ruling protects the personal possession of a small amount of marijuana in the home. Because of Ravin, it is likely that any local option laws allowing "dry" marijuana communities would be found unconstitutional if challenged.
If I use marijuana legally, can I be drug tested at work?
Yes. Companies that prohibit marijuana use can (and will likely) continue that practice. Nothing in the law prohibits workplace drug testing.
Can I get arrested for a marijuana DUI?
Yes. Driving under the influence of marijuana is still illegal, and will continue to remain illegal once the initiative becomes law.