Alaska Wrangles with Marijuana Regulations

Out of all the marijuana victories in 2014, Alaska legalizing recreational marijuana was one of the most surprising. Although the state decriminalized marijuana four decades ago, its predominately Republican population cast doubt on any form of meaningful reform. Nevertheless, Alaskans passed marijuana reform by 53 percent.

Since that surprising victory in November, the question of how to regulate Alaska’s recreational marijuana market has proven to be more difficult to answer than the question of legalization. One legislator hoping to get a head start in regulation is Republican state Sen. Lesil McGuire.

During a joint session of the Alaskan House and Senate, McGuire introduced Senate Bill 30, which aims to address some of the regulatory questions lawmakers hope to tackle. The proposed legislation would clarify the definition of marijuana to include hash oil and other marijuana derivatives, as well as establish rules regarding marijuana open container laws. The bill would also establish penalties for providing marijuana to minors.

All things considered, those portions of McGuire’s law sound reasonable, but some of the wording in the bill would repeal sections of the initiative that voters approved in November. Specifically, it would change sections that allowed for personal possession of marijuana and instead simply decriminalize the substance.

As McGuire herself put it: “It decriminalizes marijuana in the case of 21-year-old Alaskan adults using marijuana for recreational and medicinal uses, up to one ounce.” Considering the fact that marijuana possession was already decriminalized for up to four ounces, this would not only be a huge step back for legalization, but for decriminalization as well.

Needless to say, Alaskan marijuana advocates do not approve. Speaking with the Associated Press, Tim Hinterberger of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol expressed concern over the bill:

“This is a lesser protection than what the voters have mandated, and the state has previously used this tactic to thwart the will of the voters … . We are not suggesting that is the intent of this bill, but it is an issue proponents are particularly sensitive to given the history of marijuana policy in Alaska.”

Despite the dubious language and intentions of SB 30, McGuire said she is open to new wording in the bill. However, McGuire still defended the wording, telling the Associated Press,”The philosophy is, marijuana is a controlled substance and it remains a controlled substance.”

The language of SB 30 is just one of numerous issues that Alaskan legislators will have to grapple with as they regulate the infant marijuana industry. In a state where most towns are only available from air or sea, areas patrolled by federal authorities, the task of intrastate marijuana commerce presents its own unique regulatory challenge. So too does the task of harmonizing state and local laws on marijuana.

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