Ballot Measure 2 will become effective on Tuesday, and many Alaskans are wondering what will change on that date. The simple answer is: Everything, and not much at all.
Beginning that day, it will be lawful for someone 21 years of age or over to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana. Those with a green thumb may legally grow up to six marijuana plants (only three of them can be mature at any time) in their homes. Generous Alaskans may gift, without payment, up to 1 ounce of marijuana to someone age 21 or over and give them up to six immature marijuana plants. Private consumption will be completely legal for those 21 and over. So, for adults, personal cultivation, possession, and consumption will be lawful within certain limits, in private, and as long as no money changes hands. For those who have been consuming for years, this may not seem significant, but from a legal perspective it represents a huge shift.
So, what doesn't change on Tuesday? Everything else. Don't expect retail marijuana stores to pop up next to your favorite pizza place for at least one more year. Commercial marijuana businesses -- whether they are planning to grow, process, bake, or sell marijuana products -- won't be able to legally operate until spring or summer of 2016.
Some folks have asked why it's taking so long. We voted for this, so why isn't it happening? The answer is, it is happening. Since January, our Legislature has been working to bring existing criminal statutes into line with the voter initiative. Tuesday marks the beginning of a nine-month rulemaking process during which the regulations under which marijuana businesses will operate will be developed and refined. Under the provisions of the voter initiative, the state is expected to begin accepting applications for operating permits by February 2016 -- a full year from now. This timeline was clearly defined in the voter initiative and, so far, the process is on schedule.
There's an important aspect of all of this that is obvious yet sometimes overlooked: While a clear majority of voters approved Ballot Measure 2 (it got more votes than Gov. Bill Walker, Sen. Dan Sullivan, or Rep. Don Young), many of those who voted against it had legitimate concerns, and those concerns merit continued respect and consideration from marijuana users and advocates.
On Tuesday, there will be an understandable desire on the part of enthusiastic supporters to celebrate the occasion. As individuals prominently involved in the ongoing discussions with legislators, we simply ask you to go ahead and celebrate, but please do so responsibly. As with alcohol, there's an appropriate time, place, and manner to consume marijuana, and the worst thing that could happen right now is for a handful of overzealous folks to spoil things by making a public spectacle out of marijuana consumption.
So, please be respectful of your fellow Alaskans, don't drive under the influence, and don't do anything to give your neighbors reason to feel uneasy about this new law. We're in the midst of an enormous social and legal shift. Please do your part to make it as successful as possible by consuming responsibly.
Dr. Tim Hinterberger is a co-sponsor of the voter initiative and chair of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol. Bruce Schulte is spokesman for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation -- an Alaska-based nonprofit advocating for sensible marijuana laws and a legitimate marijuana industry.