Smoking, growing and possessing marijuana becomes legal in Alaska on Tuesday, after a voter initiative aimed at clearing away 40 years of conflicting laws and court rulings passed in November.
Making Alaska the third state to legalize recreational marijuana was the goal of a coalition including libertarians, rugged individualists and small-government Republicans who prize the privacy rights enshrined in the state's constitution.
But while they voted 53-47 percent last November to legalize marijuana use by adults in private places, “legalization brings along a dizzying number of questions,” reports the Alaska Dispatch News.
The November victory for pot in Alaska came with key victories in Oregon and Washington, D.C. The three referendums came amid shifts in American opinions on marijuana in recent years that have energized efforts to legalize the drug, which remains illegal under federal law despite the developments in Colorado and Washington state.
Alaska’s initiative, which bars smoking in public, didn’t define what that means, and lawmakers left the question — and others — to the alcohol regulatory board, which planned to meet early Tuesday to discuss an emergency response. On Monday Gov. Bill Walker introduced a bill to create a Marijuana Control Board that would be regulate the industry, according to the Dispatch News.
Nonetheless, as of Tuesday, adult Alaskans can keep and use limited amounts of pot, transport it, grow it and give it away. They cannot sell it.
A second phase, creating a regulated and taxed marijuana market, won't start until 2016 at the earliest.
In Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, officials tried and failed in December to ban a new commercial marijuana industry. But Police Chief Mark Mew, whose department has prepared a fact sheet “Know Your Grow”, said his officers will be strictly enforcing the public smoking ban which carries at $100 fine. He has warned people against smoking on their porches if they live next to a park.
Other officials are still discussing a proposed cultivation ban for the wild Kenai Peninsula.
In North Pole, smoking outdoors on private property will be OK as long as it doesn't create a nuisance, said local officials.
Meanwhile, Alaska Native leaders worry that legalization will mean new problems for their communities.
Alcohol abuse disproportionately affects the Alaska Native population, according to some studies, where alcohol-related deaths occur at nearly nine times the U.S. average. More than 100 communities in Alaska have adopted some degree of the local option to regulate alcohol availability.
Initiative backers promised Native leaders that communities could still have local control under certain conditions.
"When they start depending on smoking marijuana, I don't know how far they'd go to get the funds they need to support it, to support themselves," said Edward Nick, council member in Manokotak, a remote village of 400 that is predominantly Yup'ik Eskimo.
Both alcohol and drug use are prohibited in Nick's village 350 miles southwest of Anchorage, even inside the privacy of villagers' homes.
Alaska law gives every community the option to regulate alcohol locally and 108 communities impose local limits on alcohol, and 33 of them ban it altogether.
But the initiative did not provide clear opt-out language for tribal councils and other smaller communities.
Al Jazeera with The Associated Press
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