Highly Informed: 13 pressing questions about Alaska's marijuana legalization day

Feb. 24, 2015, is a historic day in the Last Frontier: Alaska becomes the third state in the U.S. in which recreational cannabis use is legalized.

Legalization brings along a dizzying number of questions. What will businesses look like? How will existing criminal statutes change? Will communities opt to ban marijuana sales?

State and local governments are tasked with redefining the parameters of marijuana as it is brought out of the shadows and into well-lit, regulated territory. Much remains to be seen.

But, there is some clarity. Laws outlining personal use provide a solid foundation as the state moves forward. Below, we've compiled answers to 13 pressing questions as Alaska enters a new era.

Have lingering questions? You're not alone. Alaska Dispatch News unveiled this month its Highly Informed column that tries to cut through the noise so you don't have to. Ask a question. Check out the answers. Stay tuned for more.

What's legal on Feb. 24?

For anyone aged 21 and older: It's legal to possess, transport and display up to 1 ounce of marijuana and accompanying accessories, such as a pipe. It's also legal to possess, grow, process and transport up to six marijuana plants, three of which may be flowering.

Adults can give each other up to an ounce of weed, or up to six immature plants.


So how much pot can you have in your home? Past court cases have identified personal possession as 4 ounces or less. The initiative, however, states that a person can have any amount in their home that is harvested from their six personal plants.

"You have two laws kind of colliding here," Cynthia Franklin, director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board -- the agency overseeing the implementation of the initiative -- said of the differing amounts.

If you have 4 ounces or less in your home, you "should be fine," Franklin said.

Alternately, if you have over 4 ounces and "can show that's the harvest of your plants," you should also be in the clear, Franklin said.

What is still illegal on Feb. 24?

Pretty much everything else. Until existing criminal statutes are changed -- which the Alaska Legislature is working on -- any conduct not specifically made legal in the initiative remains illegal, for now. That means if you are, for instance, found carrying around a pound of weed, you could be charged criminally.

You can't drive while stoned. You can't sell pot. You can't consume marijuana in public.

Drive high and you could get a DUI. Sell marijuana and you could get arrested. Smoke in public -- or flaunt an edible, vape pen, etc. to the point where you grab the attention of police -- and you could get ticketed for a fine up to $100.

Can I sell pot?


You can give away up to 1 ounce of marijuana and six immature plants to someone 21-years or older -- but only "without remuneration," meaning you can't get paid.

The initiative doesn't mention specifically whether barter is prohibited. Franklin wrote that barter -- exchanging firewood for marijuana, for instance -- would be considered payment.

"Attempting to set up sales by calling them trades or barters is still attempting to gain from your personal use stash. All sales, barter, and trading of alcohol are regulated by the ABC Board. I cannot see setting up a system with giant loopholes for marijuana," Franklin wrote.

Can I carry pot in my car? In my purse? In my hair? In a box? With a fox?

Yes. You can transport, possess and display up to 1 ounce of pot (as long as you are 21 or older, and the fox is cool with it).

I’m a renter. Can I grow or use marijuana legally in my home?

Landlords can write marijuana prohibitions into a lease, as private property owners can prohibit or regulate marijuana on their property, but they may have difficulty enforcing them. Any rules in a lease or rental agreement must be clearly defined and applied to all tenants equally. So if a landlord would like to include a clause like that in a lease, there's no stopping him or her. And if a tenant signs such an agreement, the law seems unlikely to side with the tenant in a dispute.

I’m under 21. Can I use marijuana legally?

Laws for people under 21 don't change. Even if you are an adult 18-20 years old, you could be charged criminally if you are found in possession of marijuana.

The status quo remains in place until criminal statutes are changed. The Legislature is working on amending statutes to line up with the new law.

That said, the 1975 Alaska Supreme Court decision Ravin v. State protects the right of adults 18 and older to have a small amount of marijuana in the home for personal use.

What’s the deal with public consumption?

You aren't allowed to consume marijuana in public. That's written into the initiative language, and could net you a fine of up to $100.


But what does "public" mean?

The initiative doesn't define it. So, local municipalities -- notably so far, Anchorage, Juneau and North Pole -- are defining "public" on their own.

In Anchorage, a public place is defined as:

"A place to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access and includes, but is not limited to, streets, highways, sidewalks, alleys, transportation facilities, parking areas, convention centers, sports arenas, schools, places of business or amusement, shopping centers, malls, parks, playgrounds, prisons, and hallways, lobbies, doorways not constituting rooms or apartments designed for actual residence."

Meanwhile, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board may soon weigh in with a definition of "public," Franklin said, in order to nix confusion.

Are there restrictions on where I can bring weed?

Potentially, yes. Private property owners can still ban or regulate marijuana on their property -- individuals, employers, schools, hospitals, youth centers and corporations are just a few potential entities that could prohibit or regulate cannabis on their property.

In addition, it remains illegal to grow, cultivate, possess or use marijuana on federal land, according to Wendy Zirngibl, regional public affairs specialist for the U.S. Forest Service. That includes U.S. Forest Service lands, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service lands.

On military bases, marijuana likewise remains prohibited, as "possession of marijuana -- by anyone -- on a federal installation is a violation of federal law. The new Alaskan law does not affect the federal laws prohibiting the use of marijuana or the military's policy on federally controlled substances," wrote 2nd Lt. Michael Trent Harrington, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson public affairs officer.


Will drug testing at work change?


Companies that prohibit marijuana use can (and will likely) continue that practice. Nothing in the law prohibits workplace drug testing.

I live with other people. How many pot plants can we have in our home?

Each household is able to have six plants, three of which may be flowering at a time, Franklin said.

That means regardless of how many people live in one home, only six plants can be growing at once.

While the initiative language states that anyone over 21 may possess up to 6 plants, the state's interpretation of "possession" is that if it's in your house, it's in your control, Franklin said.

This legal interpretation comes from "a long line of (court) cases and case law" defining possession, Franklin said.

So, unless you're trying to serve as a test case to challenge existing case law, being on the safe side means growing no more than six plants per household, not per individual.

When will businesses open their doors?

Don't expect to see cannabis businesses open their doors before the summer of 2016.

The state has nine months to craft regulations, starting Tuesday. A year from that date -- Feb. 24, 2016 -- the state must begin accepting business applications. Initial business licenses are expected to be awarded at the end of May 2016.

Some communities may end up banning marijuana establishments. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, for example, is considering bringing a ban on farms before voters.

What will law enforcement look like on Feb. 24?

On Feb. 24, the Anchorage Police Department -- which has been developing a Know Your Grow media campaign -- will be increasing its patrols, police chief Mark Mew said. Officers will potentially be handing out public consumption citations.

The Fairbanks Police Department did not have plans to increase its patrols on Feb. 24, police Chief Randall Aragon wrote.


The Alaska State Troopers did not have plans to increase enforcement on Feb. 24, spokesperson Tim DeSpain wrote.

Where can I learn more about Alaska’s changing marijuana laws?

Check out Alaska Dispatch News' Highly Informed column for more discussion, and keep up-to-date with coverage on ADN's Cannabis North section.

The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has been compiling information on its own website as well.

Correction: This story originally stated there was no definition of public under Alaska statute.

Have a question about marijuana news or culture in Alaska? Send it to cannabis-north@alaskadispatch.com with "Highly Informed" in the subject line.

Laurel Andrews

Laurel Andrews was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in October 2018.