JUNEAU, Alaska — Smoking, growing and possessing marijuana becomes legal in America’s wildest state Tuesday, thanks to a voter initiative aimed at clearing away 40 years of conflicting laws and court rulings.
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 when they voted 52-48 percent last November to legalize marijuana use by adults in private places, they left many of the details to lawmakers and regulators to sort out.
November’s initiative also 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.
In Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, 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.
Other officials are still discussing a proposed cultivation ban for the wild Kenai Peninsula. 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.
While the 1975 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.
And while possession is no longer a crime under state law, enjoying pot in public can bring a $100 fine.
Meanwhile, infamous former television reporter Charlo Greene is 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 walk-off on live television last year to devote her efforts to passing the initiative — plans a celebratory toke at 4:20 p.m.
In this Feb. 20, 2015 photo, Peter Lomonaco, co-founder of the Alaska Cannabis Club, and CEO Charlo Greene share a joint at their medical marijuana dispensary in Anchorage, Alaska.
— The Associated Press
First published February 23 2015, 5:26 PM