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Could Alaska be next to legalize pot? Voters to decide in August

Drug TraffickingCrimeCrime, Law and JusticeCourts and the JudiciaryRecreational Substance UseMarijuana UseLifestyle and Leisure

Voters in Alaska this summer will have a third chance to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

The Alaska Division of Elections released data Tuesday showing that the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana in Alaska has collected enough signatures to quality for the Aug. 19 primary election ballot.

Medical marijuana use was approved by Alaska voters in 1998 by an 18-percentage-point margin. But two years later, voters rejected by the same margin a measure that would legalize pot for recreational use. In 2004, another legalization measure was defeated by 11 percentage points.

"Based on the numbers posted by the Division of Elections, Alaskans will have the chance to overturn the failed policy of prohibiting marijuana use," said Taylor Bickford, a spokesman for the legalization campaign. The group’s polling in Alaska mirrors national figures, Bickford said.

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A Pew survey last year indicated that 52% of U.S. adults supported complete legalization, the first time in four decades of polling that a majority had done so.

Alaskans are already allowed to possess as much as 4 ounces of marijuana for personal use within their homes, the result of a state Supreme Court ruling in 1975 citing the right to privacy. But there is no legal means to buy or distribute marijuana for recreational use in the state.

The latest ballot measure would allow anyone 21 or older to use marijuana. They could grow a limited amount themselves or buy marijuana from licensed retailers. Public consumption would be banned. And marijuana would be subject to an excise tax.

Local governments, the measure says, could regulate the cultivation and sale, but not the use, of marijuana in their jurisdictions.

If the initiative is approved, Alaska would join Washington and Colorado in allowing recreational use.

“I think Alaskans are watching other states, and they understand that the sky isn’t falling,” Bickford said. “The effect has been money that was benefiting criminal enterprises and drug dealers is being used to benefit the residents of the state.”

The campaign needed 30,169 signatures from throughout the state to qualify its initiative for the ballot. More than 40,000 signatures were submitted. About 31,500 of them have checked out as of Tuesday morning with 6,000 left to go, said Gail Fenumiai, director of the Division of Elections. The measure is expected to be formally certified by early March.

Several other states are considering marijuana-related measures this year, including in Florida, where voters in November will face the question of legalizing medical marijuana.  

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