Alaska Marijuana Legalization Raises Questions

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On Nov. 4, Alaskans voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, but that decision seems to have raised more questions than ever about how the new law will be implemented. One of the biggest issues facing Alaskans is how to transport marijuana within the state.

Despite the legalization of small amounts of marijuana, federal laws still prohibit cannabis, and many rural communities in Alaska can only be accessed by plane or boat—a fact that could complicate the new state law. While Alaska’s ground is her own, her skies and many of her waterways fall under the jurisdiction of federal regulation. The possession and transportation of marijuana are still illegal under federal law.

According to Alaska Dispatch News, the laws governing the use of cannabis in the state have not yet been drafted and are not expected to be until Proposition 2 takes effect in February, after which time the state will be given nine months to decide how and what to enforce. A spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said that when illegal substances are found during security screening, local law enforcement is informed and decides how to proceed.

Anchorage’s Ted Stevens International Airport manager, John Parrott, says that many small regional airports have security police on site instead of TSA to help stop alcohol from being transported to dry communities. There is nothing stopping the airport police from doing the same with marijuana, says Parrott.

Another question raised by Proposition 2 is whether marijuana will be made legal on the many ferries which help to connect the various communities of Alaska. According to Jeremy Woodrow at the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the legality is uncertain, but his department will be working with the Department of Law to determine what changes, if any, should be made over the next year. The U.S. Coast Guard said it will continue to uphold federal law and enforce strict marijuana prohibition.

Furthermore, the Coast Guard means to ensure that boaters are sober while operating any vessel on open water, says Kip Wadlow, Coast Guard Spokesman. Wadlow said that whether the contraband will be confiscated or the perpetrator will be arrested depends on the situation, but as long as federal law prohibits marijuana, the Coast Guard will enforce that law.

The decision to legalize marijuana in Alaska was by no means a landslide defeat for Proposition 2’s opposition. The measure passed with 52 percent of voters in favor, less than either Oregon or Washington D.C., which passed similar propositions. The measure passed with 69 percent of the vote in the capital and 55 percent in Oregon. The decision in the District of Columbia, however, is subject to different rules and may face a push from Congress to overrule that decision.

Washington and Colorado passed measures to legalize on previous ballots in 2012. According to The New York Times, Colorado has reported mixed results since the law went into effect in January. The state’s crime rates do appear to be dropping, but revenue from the taxation of marijuana has been lower than expected, as many continue to purchase medical marijuana, which is subject to fewer taxes than its recreational cousin. Before Alaskans can cheer and raise a marijuana cupcake, the election must be certified. Ninety days later the initiative can become a law, and then the many looming questions of legality may be answered.

By Sree Aatmaa Khalsa

Photo by History Center – Flickr License

The New York Times
Alaska Dispatch News
Alaska Dispatch News
Marijuana Policy Project

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