Alaska quietly becomes 3rd US state to legalize marijuana
Updated: 2015-02-25 11:37
Melvin Clay of the DC Cannabis Campaign holds a sign urging voters to legalize marijuana, at the Eastern Market polling station in Washington, in this November 4, 2014 file photo. Voters in the District of Columbia last year passed a measure clearing the way for pot possession, but members of Congress have used their power over the city to prevent local officials from coming up with any plan to let the drug be sold legally for recreational purposes. With the congressional review period for the new measure set to expire on February 25, 2015 District of Columbia pot users will be left in a murkier position than those in Colorado and Washington state, which fully legalized marijuana last year. [Photo/Agencies]
JUNEAU, Alaska - Alaska on Tuesday became the third US state to legalize marijuana. But the historic day passed with little public acknowledgement in a state with a savvy marijuana culture that has seen varying degrees of legal acceptance of the drug for 40 years.
Supporters said the day was a milestone, but unlike in Colorado and Washington state, there were no street parties and public smoking displays in Alaska's biggest cities.
Legalization marked the end of a 43-year political battle for Bill Parker, 70.
The Anchorage man, who was listed as a sponsor of the initiative, first banded together with a group of young Democrats elected to the state House of Representatives to introduce a legalization bill in 1972.
Parker's hopes for legal weed dwindled as he saw Alaska become more Republican and more conservative over the years. He said perhaps the marijuana vote marks the end of that pendulum swing.
He plans to meet with other initiative backers for laid-back celebrations Tuesday evening. "I think there'll be marijuana, and I think for the first time people won't have to feel like criminals when they use it," Parker said.
Alaska has had a complicated history with marijuana over the years. The Alaska Supreme Court in 1975 said personal marijuana possession was protected under the state constitution's right-to-privacy clause. In 1998, voters legalized medicinal marijuana. But over the years, state lawmakers twice criminalized any possession, creating an odd legal limbo, and never created rules for medical marijuana dispensaries to operate.
Placing Alaska in the same category as Washington state and Colorado with legal marijuana was the goal of the pro-pot coalition that included libertarians, rugged individualists and small-government Republicans who prize the privacy rights enshrined in the Alaska state constitution.
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.
Police throughout Alaska were prepared to hand out $100 citations for anyone caught smoking pot in public, but departments stretching more than 1,100 miles from Nome on the state's western coast to Juneau in the southeast panhandle hadn't issued a ticket during the day.