Following a sweeping win at the ballot box in November, recreational marijuana officially became legal in Alaska on Tuesday, making it the third state in the country—behind Washington and Colorado—to allow adults over 21 to smoke, possess, grow, and transport pot.
Alaska voters passed their legalization bill 53-47 percent in the midterm elections. In addition to making private use legal for adults, the legislation will create a marketplace to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana, though that portion is not expected to be put in place until 2016 at the earliest.
Oregon and Washington, D.C. also voted to legalize recreational marijuana in November. Oregon will make the law official in July, while D.C. faces ongoing obstruction from Congress.
Beginning Tuesday, Alaska now has nine months to create regulations for the sale and distribution of marijuana. Commercial farming will also be under consideration next year. For now, buying or bartering for marijuana remains illegal.
"First Colorado and Washington, now Alaska and Oregon—and all with levels of support higher than the winning candidates for governor and U.S. Senate achieved in those states," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Legalizing marijuana just makes sense now to voters across the political spectrum and—as we’ll likely see in 2016—across the country."
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Some complex legal matters remain. The Alaska Dispatch News this month unveiled a new column, Highly Informed, to help residents cull important information about the law, from basic awareness to rules for renters who want to grow their own plants.
As the ADN details, the state's new state pot law stipulates:
- 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.
- 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.
- Companies that prohibit marijuana use can (and will likely) continue that practice. Nothing in the law prohibits workplace drug testing.
While future legislation and pending regulation remain under review, organizers called on legalization supporters to celebrate cautiously. "[D]on’t do anything to give your neighbors reason to feel uneasy about this new law," wrote bill co-sponsor Dr. Tim Hinterberger and Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation spokesperson Bruce Schulte in an op-ed for the ADN last week. "We’re in the midst of an enormous social and legal shift. Please do your part to make it as successful as possible by consuming responsibly."
Overall, as ADN noted, Tuesday, February 24, 2015 will go down as "a historic day in the Last Frontier."