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Advocates renew effort to legalize marijuana in Alaska

Since 1975, state has swung between both sides of issue of recreational use.


April 26. 2013 11:54PM


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JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska, known for its live-and-let-live lifestyle, is poised to become the next battleground in the push to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.


The state has a complicated history with the drug, with its highest court ruling nearly 40 years ago that adults have a constitutional right to possess and smoke marijuana for personal use in their own homes. In the late 1990s, Alaska became one of the first states to allow the use of pot for medicinal reasons.


Then the pendulum swung the other direction, with residents in 2004 rejecting a ballot effort to legalize recreational marijuana. And in 2006, the state passed a law criminalizing possession of even small amounts of the drug — leaving the current state of affairs somewhat murky.


Supporters of recreational marijuana say attitudes toward pot have softened in the past decade, and they believe they have a real shot at success in Alaska.


The state is reviewing their request to begin gathering signatures to get an initiative on next year’s ballot. The proposal would make it legal for those 21 and older to use and possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, though not in public. It also would set out provisions for legal grow operations and establish an excise tax.


It’s a significantly different version of the failed 2004 ballot effort that would’ve allowed adults 21 and older to use, grow, sell or give away marijuana or hemp products without penalty under state law.


“The whole initiative, you can tell, is scaled down to be as palatable as possible,” said one of the sponsors, Bill Parker.


Deputy Attorney General Richard Svobodny said in an email that home-use marijuana cases in Alaska are few because authorities have no reason to get a search warrant unless something else is going on inside a house that attracts their attention.


The proposed initiative includes language that says it’s not intended to diminish the right to privacy interpreted in the 1975 case. But it notes that case is not a “blanket protection for marijuana possession,” said Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project.




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