Advocates are pushing to legalize pot in Alaska

By Becky Bohrer

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 26 2013 10:27 p.m. MDT

Bill Parker poses for a photograph at his home in Anchorage, Alaska, Thursday, April 25, 2013. Parker is one of the sponsors of an initiative to let Alaska voters decide to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Parker, a former state lawmaker, also supported a failed ballot effort in 2004, but feels possibly the time is right after Washington state and Colorado passed similar measures last year. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Associated Press

JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska, known for its live-and-let-live lifestyle, is poised to become the next battleground in the push to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

The state has a complicated history with the drug, with its highest court ruling nearly 40 years ago that adults have a constitutional right to possess and smoke marijuana for personal use in their own homes. In the late 1990s, Alaska became one of the first states to allow the use of pot for medicinal reasons.

Then the pendulum swung the other direction, with residents in 2004 rejecting a ballot effort to legalize recreational marijuana. And in 2006, the state passed a law criminalizing possession of even small amounts of the drug — leaving the current state of affairs somewhat murky.

Supporters of recreational marijuana say attitudes toward pot have softened in the past decade, and they believe they have a real shot at success in Alaska.

The state is reviewing their request to begin gathering signatures to get an initiative on next year's ballot. The proposal would make it legal for those 21 and older to use and possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, though not in public. It also would set out provisions for legal grow operations and establish an excise tax.

It's a significantly different version of the failed 2004 ballot effort that would've allowed adults 21 and older to use, grow, sell or give away marijuana or hemp products without penalty under state law.

"The whole initiative, you can tell, is scaled down to be as palatable as possible," said one of the sponsors, Bill Parker.

If the initiative application is accepted, backers will have until January, before the next legislative session starts, to gather the more than 30,000 signatures required to qualify the measure for the primary ballot.

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