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Alaska needs an able marijuana regulatory board; lawmakers must act

Last November, voters decided it was time for Alaska to take a more sensible, reality-based approach to marijuana. They replaced the failed policy of prohibition with a mandate that the state regulate and tax marijuana similarly to how it treats alcohol. Yet, with only days left in the legislative session, the Legislature has yet to provide the resources needed to establish a regulatory framework.

As public proponents of Ballot Measure 2, we call on the state Senate to create and fund a dedicated Marijuana Control Board that can focus on sensible, comprehensive guidelines for a regulated marijuana industry. A taxed and regulated marijuana industry will more than pay for the cost of its administration. Taxing the legal sales of marijuana will generate an estimated $7 million in 2016, a total of $72 million by 2020, and more than $23 million each year thereafter according to a report by the Marijuana Policy Group, an independent research organization.

Marijuana business licensing and application fees can and should be sufficient to cover all of the costs of regulating this developing industry, allowing marijuana tax revenue to be used for education, public health, and other programs. However, the regulatory agency will not receive a penny until it accepts the first application in 2016.

The 9-month regulatory process spelled out in the ballot measure began on Feb. 24, yet no real work can be done on the regulations until the state decides who will be responsible for developing those rules and provides funding for the effort.

The House has overwhelmingly approved House Bill 123 to do just that. This bill would create and fund a Marijuana Control Board, which would be staffed with specialists who have the information and resources needed to develop guidelines specific for this industry. If this bill fails, the regulatory burden will fall to the Alcohol Control Board, with only its existing resources and staff. The ABC Board is not currently staffed or funded to grapple with issues that are unique to a marijuana industry, and we believe that voter initiative demands the best, honest effort to allow it to succeed.

The voters have spoken, and adults will soon be able to purchase marijuana from registered businesses instead of the underground market. The only question is whether the regulations will be thoughtfully and carefully crafted to ensure that all legal marijuana products are quality controlled, dosage-tested, and safely packaged, or whether regulations will be incomplete and hastily assembled by an overworked board lacking appropriate expertise.

The voters deserve that best effort and we urge our elected officials to seize this opportunity.

Throughout this legislative session, our senators have made a good faith effort to implement Ballot Measure 2, and we are optimistic they will see it through to the end. Please enact HB 123, as passed by the House, without delay and let Alaska serve as a model for the effective regulation of marijuana.

Dr. Tim Hinterberger and Bruce Schulte were prime sponsors of the successful marijuana ballot measure, and since have been steady advocates for a board to make the rules for public and consumer safety, taxation, sales and transportation.

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

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