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Alaska could become third state to legalize marijuana

Published time: February 28, 2014 23:40
AFP Photo / Pablo Porciuncula

AFP Photo / Pablo Porciuncula

Voters in Alaska will decide in the coming months if their state will become the third in the country to legalize cannabis for recreational use after the issue qualified for a ballot measure.

Alaska Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell announced Wednesday that he had formally certified a petition campaign after more than 36,000 state residents signed the document asking for a vote to legalize the sale and use of marijuana.

The initiative, which attracted 6,000 more signatures than necessary to qualify for a ballot measure, will be put up for a vote during the state’s primary election on August 17. Also on the ballot will be a measure that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $9.75 an hour by January 2016.

Reuters reports that approval of the initiative would allow adults 21-years-old and over to have up to one ounce of cannabis for their own private use and also to grow no more than six marijuana plants on their property.

The proposal also replicates many of the same ideas set forth by Colorado and Washington, the two states that have already voted to legalize marijuana. Alaska is one of 20 US states that already allows medical marijuana to citizens afflicted with a variety of ailments, often ranging from back pain to glaucoma to cancer.

The issue of legal cannabis has been an anomaly in the polarized world of American politics. Left-wing Democrats have traditionally associated with marijuana legalization, but the idea of decreased government intervention has also made it appealing to right-wing libertarians, an ideology popular throughout Alaska.

Alaska is a red state, but with a heavy libertarian streak,” Taylor Bickford, spokesman for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, told the New York Times. “The idea of personal freedom and responsibility is uniting Alaska on both sides of the aisle.”

Under the current parameters, Alaska would collect a tax of $50 per ounce of marijuana when the drug is sold at the wholesale level. Financial officials in Pueblo County, Colorado announced this week that they have already experienced a boost in revenue from marijuana. Along with reaping $56,000 in sales tax from the approximately $1 million in January sales, the state also collected $70,400 in licensing and renewal fees.

Hoping to join the nationwide movement, activists in Oregon have begun collecting signatures to go toward their own 2014 initiative.

A bipartisan tidal wave of public support for regulating marijuana like alcohol in Alaska has pushed the issue onto the ballot, and we will be running an aggressive campaign designed to build momentum on that,” campaign spokesman Taylor Bickford told Reuters.

Bickford went on to decry what he considers a misguided approach of prohibition and said that the ballot initiatives constitute a more “sensible approach.”