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Marijuana legalization: How Colorado is following Alaska's smoke trail

Categories: Marijuana

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When the final tally rang on election night, hundreds of thousands of voters in Colorado and Washington rejoiced at the passing of their respective marijuana bills. In these states, the people had spoken: legalize it. Amid the hazy celebrations, however, one acknowledgement was conspicuously absent. Alaska had actually legalized marijuana first. Sort of.

Since 1975, Alaska has inhabited an enforcement purgatory in which marijuana users have carved out their own sets of rules. Some of them hold up, while others are the unfortunate result of oft-repeated mantras that have no legal authority whatsoever.

Alaska's landmark marijuana case, 1975's Ravin v. Alaska, questioned the state's interpretation of an individual's right to privacy as defined in both the U.S. and Alaska constitutions. Essentially, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that it is within an individual's right to possess less than four ounces of cured marijuana, or less than 25 plants, in a private residence -- without interference from state law enforcement. This is similar to Colorado's Amendment 64 in spirit, but the comparison is muddied by blurry legal terminology.

According to NORML, Alaska's "four ounces or less" is not classified as any kind of punishable offense. In Colorado, possession of one ounce for personal use, or the gifting of one ounce or less, carries, by law, no penalty; Coloradans are also allowed up to six plants for cultivation. The main difference is that in Colorado, the citizens voted for this. In Alaska, the law was decided by the state supreme court, and the laws have been left deliberately open to interpretation.

There are other specific differences, too. In Colorado, one of the main regulatory measures stipulates that only persons 21 or older are allowed to possess marijuana of any kind -- cured or in cultivation. In Alaska, individuals need only be eighteen or older.

Then again, Colorado has shown a level of maturity in at least trying to implement across-the-board regulatory measures. Throughout the state, there are some who find Amendment 64 too restrictive, and some who feel the regulations aren't strict enough. But look at the alternative: Alaska decriminalized possession of marijuana in the home 37 years ago but has not taken any other steps toward developing a comprehensive and consistent relationship with marijuana. The result is a veritable "Wild West" of a black market in a massive state, with no real ability to monitor how much marijuana is being produced and passed around Alaska and beyond.

Colorado and Washington may be just a little late coming to the party. But since arriving, their willingness to take a realistic look at marijuana's potential role in a culture and an economy launched these states far past Alaska.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana tourism recommended by task force -- but can rules prevent smurfing?"


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20 comments
teknik
teknik

I lived there for 10 years and always wondered why no one mentioned it.


citizen votes to outlaw cannabis along with legislative bills have all been passed only to be tossed by the courts many times over.


they cannot pass laws without first amending the state constitution and no one in their right mind is going to vote away their right to privacy in their own homes.

basement growers thrive everywhere.  


11er
11er

WOW!!!!! It's time to take a ride on the THUNDERFUCK EXPRESS.

jose257
jose257 topcommenter

Alaska is playing the decriminalization game that somehow fools people into thinking if it isn't a felony then it is not a criminal offense.  Tell that to someone who spends one year in jail.

After the big Exxon oil spill, Exxon required Alaska to make marijuana illegal in exchange for offering employment to Alaska citizens and big corporate lobbyists have been running Alaska ever since.


Sara Palin made a few deals with the oil company extortionists but standing up for marijuana users was not one of them.



CoreyDonahue
CoreyDonahue

¨Alaska's "four ounces or less" is not classified as any kind of punishable offense.¨

Charles, baby, in Colorado 4oz to 1oz is a punishable offense.  

C.R.S. 18-18-406(4)(a)(I) More than 2 oz but less than 6 oz Class 2 Misdemeanor 3-12 months $250-$1,000 $600

So, let´s think about this. 4oz in AK no punishale offense, 4oz in Colorado up to a year!!!! THANK YOU A64!!!

Jim Pittenger
Jim Pittenger

Oh man, The Black Market was Anchorage's premier head shop. I think I bought my first pack of Zig Zags and first 5 ft. tall bong. Of course the story didn't reference that Black Market.

Ed Haas
Ed Haas

Better overall. More control over purchases and who purchases. Also, it's practically essential in a legal marijuana system to have a means of producing tax revenue, and the easiest way to do that is to give licenses to retail 'pot' shops. The better the system in place for retail business, the less the Feds will be willing to crack down.

Josh Bradley
Josh Bradley

I grew up there. Hard to compare to here as there are much fewer people there and less crowded. It is accepted because the cops have better things to do with their limited resources (you can get busted) and they know users are generally not a problem...just dont get caught smoking and driving. Aside from a couple cities the population doesnt live in close proximity so many grow or trade with friends. Going to a store to buy mj when you are 20-100+ miles away is not exactly ideal especially in the winter. Yes, it would bring in tax money but considering the low population it wouldn't bring in nearly the revenue that it has had here. Those factors need to be taken in to consideration. Alaska is not like most states in the Lower 48.

Blunt
Blunt

Gov.  Murkowski was voted out at his second term and replaced by Sarah Palin.  Knowing she was going to kill the bill he hastily slammed it through breaking some rules.  Probably would not have worked anyway as the Alaska Supreme Court would have still given protection for home possession. 

It's ironic but a State Trooper will ignore the pot but then bust somebody for possession of alcohol in most Eskimo villages.   I was surprised as hell to learn an employee was busted for a commercial grow op and he did not have enough plants; the case was thrown out.  On the flip side if he had crossed the sill of his door of his house will a joint he might have joined the ~1,000 busted for pot in Alaska.


Monkey
Monkey

I respectfully disagree. Colorado and Washington have stepped backwards, not forward. Alaska is not concerned with commercialism, that's all Colorado and Washington care about. They understand money generated from weed benefits the area, without fees, taxes, tracking systems and bureaucracy. Their Supreme Court ruled the people have the power, not private business or the government. They know how to shut up, enjoy their freedom, generate money and help each other. All we know how to do is wave our weed flag in everyones face, replace freedom for regulation, spend money on fees and licenses and call the tip line on each other. 

derhammenshpiel
derhammenshpiel

Might want to look up how Alaska rolled back the changes in around 1992, we surely don't want to follow their example.

teknik
teknik

@jose257 there's no decrim going on.  it was decided as a constitutional matter.

this is purely state law vs federal law.  only the feds can prosecute cannabis growers, and the feds don't touch anyone with 23 plants or less in that state.

the only way cannabis can be  a state crime is if they amend the state constitution.


23 plants and a 1/4 lb in your home, and the old excuse of "i had no idea those plants would be so big officer" gets your case tossed and your gear and everything confiscated back.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@CoreyDonahue ... according to the BLITHERING IMBECILES who wrote and supported the festering turd that is A64 -- Colorado Marijuana is so Harmful and Dangerous that NO ONE should be allowed to possess more than 1 (one) pathetic ounce of it, under PENALTY of CRIMINAL LAW!


charles.trowbridge
charles.trowbridge

@BluntThe alcohol bootlegging industry is huge. Unfortunately, many of the native villages have well-documented problems with alcohol, which is why the villages are "dry" to begin with.This report (http://www.dps.state.ak.us/AST/ABI/docs/SDEUreports/2011%20Annual%20Drug%20Report.pdf) has some pretty good info (from 2011) regarding arrest and seizure totals. The interesting thing is, in the dollar-for-dollar comparison, bootlegging alcohol can net up to 15 times more than one paid initially, compared to four times more for marijuana. Methamphetamine is the most worrisome problem right now -- as it is in many states with large rural populations -- although the arrest numbers are admittedly much, much lower than the marijuana numbers.

osufan77
osufan77

Don't blame the media for the attention the bills in Colorado and Washington are getting. No one here can control that. They're going to make an issue no matter what.

The reality is that it's just too soon to say with ANY certainty how this is going to all play out. There's still so many details that need worked out before anyone can judge how this is going to go down in 2014.

Blunt
Blunt

@Monkey That is a difference there is little outward appearance of cannabis culture in Alaska though it is at least as thick as any.  Most of the people that found trouble were probably smoking in or around a vehicle or in public and almost certainly outside of a dwelling.

Monkey
Monkey

@derhammenshpiel Home use and cultivation is still good to go, you can raise the affirmative defense of home use/possession of an ounce and the right to privacy still covers 24 plants. They have had some attacks on their freedom since 1975, but from what I hear, it's enforced as if it's legal. 

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@charles.trowbridge "The interesting thing is, in the dollar-for-dollar comparison, bootlegging alcohol can net up to 15 times more than one paid initially, compared to four times more for marijuana"

Regulation Works! ... Regulate "harmless" marijuana LIKE deadly alcohol !!

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