More than legal pot at stake: Legislature delays justice for Alaskan voters

Since the regular legislative session is about to end, if meaningful progress is not made on implementing the marijuana initiative, the proverbial can will be kicked down the road until next session. This leaves a handful of entrepreneurs, innovators, and aspiring industry leaders left in limbo not knowing what they can or can't do, and what will be or is legal.

Let me make something very clear, I am not writing as an advocate for marijuana. To be completely honest, I voted against it. What I am advocating for is the Alaska political process. Not only did enough support come from the people to get Ballot Measure 2 on the ballot, the majority of voters in our great state passed it. Furthermore, this is bipartisan support. People have a misperception that all pro-pot folks are liberal Democrats. This is simply not the case. Look at the numbers. One look at the 2014 election results, and it doesn't take a professional pollster to figure out that "yes" came from all types of voters, regardless of party affiliation.

So, let's do some quick math. Marijuana became legal for people 21 and older on Feb. 24, kind of. Some of the fastest strains of the plant take at least eight and a half weeks to cultivate any weed harvest. The state laws are still being deliberated, but currently, no one can sell it, it can only be produced in minimal amounts within a residence, and who even knows about distribution. What does this equation add up to? Everyone who has been smoking marijuana since it became legal until about now, or at least the coming months, probably obtained it illegally, enhancing the black market for the product.

Police resources are being used to take down what would be perfectly legitimate businesses. Are the police wrong? No. Anything other than a few plants inside your house is still illegal, and therefore, needs to be dealt with. If sales of marijuana are going to be permitted, then it needs to be done in a timely and efficient manner. Enthusiasts everywhere are waiting to make a living off this resource that many Alaskans have deemed to not be a viable threat to society in their view.

The biggest request that the pro-pot side has been shouting from every rooftop and pedestrian overpass for a while now is for the state to "regulate marijuana like alcohol." Valid argument, if one vice is allowed, another of equal stature should be as well. The problem is, marijuana isn't alcohol. The production of mind-altering beverages has been tailored, studied, and honed since a caveman accidently left some grains in a hollowed out gourd when it rained. Yes, I'm sure the usage of marijuana goes back for ages and ages as well, but it has never been so mainstream and widely accepted as it is now.

Think of it what you will, but we are blazing a trail to a massive cultural shift. Our elected officials are at a crossroads. They can accept the outcry from the majority of citizens and make this new industry as safe and cautious as possible, or they can sit on it until two years has passed, then fight to amend, alter or outright abolish the ballot initiative, slowing the cultural change.

Of course, it would be completely irresponsible for the state to simply unleash the pot beast without a solid structure and deep consideration of future ramifications. Let's just assume, for the sake of argument, our esteemed state legislators aren't all experts in responsible recreation marijuana usage. Constituents in the legislators' respective districts have deemed them worthy of decision-making and entrusted them to represent desires from the local communities, but how do they now write the regulations on a subject that might be out of their scope of expertise? They find others who know more about it than they do.

The state House has already passed a bill that would support the appointment of a regulatory commission board, but now it must make its way through the Senate. With time left in the regular session starting to be counted in mere hours, if action is not taken quickly, the people's choice to end prohibition on marijuana will remain in the fog of uncertainty for months to come.

Consider this, regardless of feelings toward marijuana itself, we as Alaskans need to look at the course of events that has led up to this point. We have a unique and specific political system that allows us to truly govern ourselves when the state does effectively provide our policy desires. It happens every election cycle and it makes our state great. To neglect this topic would be to neglect the very fiber of Alaska justice.

Tim Kacillas is a political science major at the University of Alaska Anchorage,a U.S. Army veteran, and small business owner. He has no affiliation with any marijuana group.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.