JUNEAU — Alaska lawmakers continue to work on bills related to the legalization of marijuana even though pot became legal earlier this year. The session is scheduled to end April 19:
Isn’t marijuana already legal?
Limited recreational marijuana became legal Feb. 24 after Alaskans approved a vote initiative in November. Residents can possess and transport up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants.
So what’s happening now?
Lawmakers have several marijuana-related bills moving through the process, and less than two weeks to pass them. The one that’s received the most attention is the crime bill. Another would create a new marijuana control board to draft regulations for a new commercial industry. A third defines the role municipalities play in regulating businesses locally, and also further regulates some aspects of personal use.
What’s in the crime bill?
The marijuana crime bill passed by the Senate would keep marijuana on the state’s list of controlled substances, but allow people to have 1 ounce of pot. The bill make delivery of marijuana for sale a crime. It also prohibits a commercial or retail marijuana industry in areas where there is no organized borough or municipality.
What can a community do?
The voters gave local governments the ability to regulate some aspects of marijuana in each community. Some like Anchorage, the state’s largest city, have crafted their own regulations related to marijuana, while others are waiting for the Legislature to finish its work. A bill that has passed the state House, but must still make its way through the Senate, would clarify that municipalities can help regulate various marijuana businesses, or prohibit them, and would also allow establish villages to do so. Although the initiative intended to allow any community to opt out, the language doesn’t do that, so some form of the bill must pass in order for villages to prohibit a local marijuana industry.
What about buying pot?
Sales still aren’t legal, so for now you can only get high with a little help from a friend— or the marijuana fairy, as some lawmakers call it. The House and Senate each have a bill that would create a new marijuana control board that would help regulate a new commercial marijuana industry. The state is already soliciting names for a five-member board that would share staff and resources with the state alcohol board, and include representatives from rural Alaska, the public health sector, public safety sector, and the new industry. If the bill doesn’t pass, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board will be responsible for writing the new regulations instead. Those have to be finished in November, with the first business licenses expected to be handed out by May 2016.
Why haven’t the bills passed?
Lawmakers started with a focus on the crime bill, with an eye toward passing it before legalization day in February. But it wound up taking several drafts, and entirely different legalization strategies in different committees, before finally passing the Senate in late March. Although work has progressed on the other bills, much of the Legislature’s attention this session has been on the budget and the state’s multi-billion dollar deficit.
What if nothing passes?
Some components of the bills are more crucial, but the bottom line, according to some lawmakers and state officials, is that the sky hasn’t fallen since marijuana became legal on Feb. 24, and it probably won’t fall. Local law enforcement officers in several communities have issued marijuana-related citations for things like smoking in public and minors consuming, and the Alcoholic Beverage Control board has had at least one preliminary discussion about regulating the new commercial industry.