Alaska Marijuana Legalization Vote Delayed Until November

Alaska’s vote to legalize the production and retail sale of recreational marijuana has been postponed until November, officials announced on Monday. With this opportunity, Alaska is potentially set to become the third U.S. state to legalize recreational pot.

The measure was originally expected to go to the ballots in August, during the state’s primary election, but it was decided this week that the vote should be delayed. Lawmakers reached that decision because of a failure to adjourn this year’s legislative session within the standard 90 day allotment — and Alaska law requires that ballot initiatives go to voters after a minimum of 120 days following the session’s closure.

The ballot initiative would legalize the adult possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, legalize the cultivation of up to six plants for personal consumption, and it would allow the retail production and sale of cannabis and cannabis-fused products to adults aged 21 or older. Commercial cannabis ventures such as stores and production facilities would be subject to taxation — though personal grows and not-for-profit transfers of small amounts of cannabis will not be taxed. The measure does not amend Alaska’s current medical marijuana market.

Public marijuana consumption would still be illegal, but the penalty would be reduced to a civil fine (under current law, possession of less than one ounce of pot is considered a criminal misdemeanor and could mean a $2,000 fine or up to 90 days in jail).

“A bipartisan tidal wave of support for regulating marijuana like alcohol in Alaska has pushed this issue onto the ballot,” said campaign spokesman Taylor Bickford, “and we will be running an aggressive campaign designed to build momentum on that.”  And indeed, support for the movement does seem to be the popular opinion: a recent Public Policy Polling survey reflects that and gives further hope to marijuana activists. The survey, released in February, suggests that 55% of registered voters believe that “marijuana should be legally allowed for recreational use, that stores should be allowed to sell it, and that its sales should be taxed and regulated similarly to alcohol” — only 39% of survey respondents opposed legalization.

Alaska should not be alone in its vote on recreational marijuana this November: Oregon activists are now collecting signatures to see marijuana law reform on their ballot, as well. Florida is also to vote this year on a constitutional amendment that would open access to cannabis for medical purposes.

Across the nation, marijuana law reform has become a popular topic and, ironically, benefits from a wealth of bipartisan support. “There is more public dialogue about marijuana taking place than ever before,” said one spokesman for the Denver-based Marijuana Policy Project.  And with the recreational market exploding in Colorado, decriminalization efforts succeeding in Washington DC, and something like half the states in the union making moves to legalize a drug that’s still classified as a Schedule 1 substance by the federal government, 2014 is taking important steps to snowball itself into a great success for marijuana.


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