Higher latitudes: Alaska legalizes marijuana use

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck

Private use of marijuana officially became legal in Alaska on Tuesday, making it the latest in a growing number of states permitting the use of cannabis products in one form or another.

According to Rolling Stone, Alaska residents originally voted to legalize pot use in November, but Tuesday marked the first day that residents of the state were allowed to smoke weed in their own homes. The law also allows homeowners to grow up to six plants per residence.

The fine print

However, it is still illegal to use marijuana in public – an offense that is punishable by a $100 fine. The law is being strictly enforced, the website said, and led to the cancellation of a planned outdoor marijuana celebration originally scheduled for Tuesday in Anchorage.

[STORY: Skunk-like pot use linked to psychosis]

The new state law limits the possession of marijuana to people over the age of 21, and according to Reuters, a person may have no more than an ounce (28.3 grams) of the substance at any given time. In addition, only three of the six marijuana plants grown can be flowering at the same time, and private public exchanges are permitted as long as no money changes hands.

Reflecting a sense of personal freedom

Alaska’s new law is stricter than those passed recently in Colorado and Washington, but more lenient than the 47 other states that limit or prohibit use of the substance (which remains illegal under federal law). Washington DC voted last year to approve legalizing pot, and mayor Muriel Bowser said that those plans will move forward, despite recent opposition by federal lawmakers.

Reuters reports that supporters of the new law claim that it “reflects a sense of personal freedom that resonates with residents” of Alaska, while also claiming that legalized sales of pot (which is scheduled to start in 2016) will generate additional income and create jobs within the state.

[STORY: Teens misperceive how wild their peers are]

Dr. Tim Hinterberger, chair of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, told the news outlet that he believed that the Alaska now has “some of the most sensible marijuana laws” in the US. A similar measure was approved by Oregon voters in November, though marijuana will not become legal in that state until July.

“Alaska has largely stayed out of pot issues since 1975, when the state Supreme Court legalized pot use inside the home as part of their unique and protective privacy laws,” Rolling Stone said. “However, being in possession of marijuana was still a crime, creating a catch-22 that Alaska has grappled with for three decades until the November decision… clarified the issue.”

[STORY: Pot is bad for young people, but so is punishing them]

“However, there are legitimate concerns about the effect legalized weed will have on Alaska, especially in a Native American community already rife with drug abuse, domestic violence and suicide,” the website added. “In an effort to make sure Alaskan citizens don’t descend into reefer madness, the state plans on lining buses with slogans like ‘Consume responsibly.’ ”

Around the horn

According to CNN.com, 23 states still prohibit the use of cannabis altogether, while the others have at least legalized medical marijuana or decriminalized possession of the substance. Only Alaska, Colorado and Washington have completely legalized the substance.

US Attorney General Eric Holder previously told the website that he was “cautiously optimistic” on the topic of marijuana legalization, adding that the Justice Department would focus on halting marijuana distribution to minors, interstate trafficking and drug violence.


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