In this Feb. 20, 2015 photo, Alaska Cannabis Club CEO Charlo Greene prepares to roll a joint at the medical marijuana dispensary in Anchorage, Alaska. On Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, Alaska will become the third state in the nation to legalize marijuana. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

In this Feb. 20, 2015 photo, Alaska Cannabis Club CEO Charlo Greene prepares to roll a joint at the medical marijuana dispensary in Anchorage, Alaska. On Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, Alaska will become the third state in the nation to legalize marijuana. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Alaska becomes 3rd state with legal marijuana

Marijuana becomes legal in Alaska, but backers hope for low-key celebrations

  • Feb. 24, 2015 2:00 p.m.

By Molly Dischner, The Associated Press

JUNEAU, Alaska – Alaska on Tuesday became the third U.S. state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, but organizers don’t expect any public celebrations since it remains illegal to smoke marijuana in public.

In the state’s largest city, Anchorage police officers are ready to start handing out $100 fines to make sure taking a toke remains something to be done behind closed doors.

Placing Alaska in the same category as Washington state and Colorado with legal marijuana was the goal of a coalition including libertarians, rugged individualists and small-government Republicans who prize the privacy rights enshrined in the Alaska state constitution.

When they voted 53-47 per cent last November to legalize marijuana use by adults in private places, they left many of the details to lawmakers and regulators to sort out.

That has left confusion on many matters.

The initiative bans smoking in public, but didn’t define what that means, and lawmakers left the question to the alcohol regulatory board, which planned to meet early Tuesday to discuss an emergency response.

That’s left different communities across the state to adopt different standards of what smoking in public means to them. In Anchorage, officials tried and failed in December to ban a new commercial marijuana industry. But Police Chief Mark Mew said his officers will be strictly enforcing the public smoking ban. He even warned people against smoking on their porches if they live next to a park.

But far to the north, in North Pole, smoking outdoors on private property will be OK as long as it doesn’t create a nuisance, officials there said.

Other officials are still discussing a proposed cultivation ban for the Kenai Peninsula.

In some respects, the confusion continues a four-decade reality for Alaskans and their relationship with marijuana.

While the 1975 Alaska Supreme Court decision protected personal marijuana possession and a 1998 initiative legalized medicinal marijuana, state lawmakers twice criminalized any possession over the years, creating an odd legal limbo.

As of Tuesday, adult Alaskans can not only keep and use pot, they can transport, grow it and give it away. A second phase, creating a regulated and taxed marijuana market, won’t start until 2016 at the earliest. That’s about the same timeline for Oregon, where voters approved legalizing marijuana the same day as Alaska did but the law there doesn’t go into effect until July 1. Washington state and Colorado voters legalized marijuana in 2012 and sales have started there.

And while possession is no longer a crime under state law, enjoying pot in public can bring a $100 fine.

That’s fine with Dean Smith, a pot-smoker in Juneau who has friends in jail for marijuana offences. “It’s going to stop a lot of people getting arrested for nonviolent crimes,” he said.

The initiative’s backers warned pot enthusiasts to keep their cool.

“Don’t do anything to give your neighbours reason to feel uneasy about this new law. We’re in the midst of an enormous social and legal shift,” organizers wrote in the Alaska Dispatch News, the state’s largest newspaper.

Richard Ziegler, who had been promoting what he called “Idida-toke” in a nod to Alaska’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, reluctantly called off his party.

There’s no such pullback for former television reporter Charlo Greene, now CEO of the Alaska Cannabis Club, which is having its grand opening on Tuesday in downtown Anchorage. She’s already pushing the limits, promising to give away weed to paying “medical marijuana” patients and other “club members.”

Greene – who quit her job with a four-letter walkoff on live television last year to devote her efforts to passing the initiative – plans a celebratory toke at 4:20 p.m.

Meanwhile, Alaska Native leaders worry that legalization will bring new temptations to communities already confronting high rates of drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and suicide.

“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.

But Nick fears that the initiative, in combination with a 1975 state Supreme Court decision that legalized marijuana use inside homes – could open doors to drug abuse.

Initiative backers promised Native leaders that communities could still have local control under certain conditions. Alaska law gives every community the option to regulate alcohol locally. From northern Barrow to Klawock, 1,291 miles away in southeast Alaska, 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, forcing each one to figure out how to proceed Tuesday.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Langley Animal Protection Society is asking people to think about the animals in need this holiday season, offering a number of ways to help. (Drew Harkness/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Santa Paw efforts afoot in Langley this Christmas

Aldergrove animal shelter develops new ways for people to help pets this holiday season

Local people are signing onto an online campaign to have people stand out of doors at 6 p.m. local time on Christmas Eve and ring bells for two minutes. (Facebook post)
LETTER: Langley, ring those Christmas bells

Global campaign asks people to ring bells for two minutes outside at 6 p.m. Christmas Eve local time

Rents range from $1,000 for a studio apartment up to almost $2,000 for a family townhouse at Emmaus Place, built as affordable housing. (Langley Advance Times files)
Rents out of reach at Langley affordable housing project, say would-be tenants

Rents for a studio apartment start at $1,000 a month

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Kevin Bieksa during his days playing with the Vancouver Canucks. (Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)
Bieksa to guest on free Canucks Alumni ‘Hot Stove’ on Zoom app

Former NHL player has become a game analyst on Sportsnet

Vees goalkeeper Yaniv Perets stands watch while Tyler Ho takes the puck around the back of the net on Nov. 7. The BCHL press release did not name the player who tested positive.(Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton Vees quarantining after player tests positive for COVID-19

The team, staff and billets are isolating while they are tested

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

Most Read