Voices of Alaska: Legalizing recreational marijuana not in Alaska’s interest

  • By Frank Murkowski
  • Saturday, October 11, 2014 5:33pm
  • Opinion

Everyone has something to say on the marijuana issue, it’s just that everyone hasn’t said it yet.

For the life of me I can’t understand the rush to legalize marijuana in our state as proposition 2 would do. It reminds me of the herd mentality of the lemmings stampeding off the cliff with little thought to the consequences.

The fact that Colorado and Washington State have recently legalized marijuana should give us cause to consider the impact of supporting legalization. Should the issue become law would it be beneficial to our citizenry, our youth and the quality of life in our huge state? What will be the impact on rural Alaskans? These are just a few of the many unanswered questions before Alaskans as we prepare to vote.

I took the opportunity to contact the Colorado’s Governor’s office on the issue. I was told that the best advice is to wait and see how both the Colorado and Washington state efforts unfold. There is no incentive to be among the first.

In Colorado, the state revenue predictions are coming in far less than projected. One reason was that the state price structure was substantially higher, 30 percent above the black market price for marijuana. Because of the growing illegal sales, the cost of state enforcement is also increasing. The influx of young people moving to Colorado to take advantage of the legalization of marijuana has also increased the number of unemployed people increasing the state welfare rolls. One can only wonder whether Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend might be an attraction to these same people to establish residency in our state. The cost to Alaska for indigent nonproductive citizens could be significant and something we can ill afford.

Where is the outside money coming from? Marijuana sales are estimated to be in excess of $1.5 billion and some funding can be traced to the Marijuana Policy Project Group of Washington DC. Don’t be fooled — this is big business.

Our youth are especially vulnerable because they are unaware of the long term consequences of pot use. Why is the effort being initiated in Alaska? It is simply because Alaska is the cheapest state in the union in which to run a referendum campaign. It is also one of the states with the youngest population.

I believe the referendum process is flawed. If enough money can be raised outside the state to hire persons to gather the minimum signatures, the issue can get on the ballot. This process circumvents the responsibility of legislators. Had the issue originated in our state legislature, it would have failed overwhelmingly. Because every legislator would have to vote on the issue. The referendum process allows any elected official to simply take a walk and avoid being held accountable. This is simply wrong. Alaskans need to know from each of their elected representatives from the legislature to the Governor and the federal delegation whether they support or oppose this important ballot measure. They need to respond with a simple yes or no answer.

If proposition 2 passes, we would have established a dual system. It would be unlawful to buy or sell marijuana under federal law but permissible under state law. Such an inconsistency has the federal government telling us one thing and the state government telling us another. Further, the enforcement of the complicated marijuana regulations would be very difficult for those responsible for law enforcement. An example might be a crew member on a commercial fishing vessel who must pass mandatory random urine tests (Coast Guard regulations) and if the test is positive for marijuana, the person cannot be hired. If the person is hired and there is an accident on board, the vessel owners insurance may be invalid.

I would urge all Alaskans who want to be informed on the issue to read the statement from the Alaska Peace Officers Association which details the difficulties associated with maintaining law and order. It’s a balanced statement and should cause all Alaskans to reflect on the importance of their vote. It is also appropriate to point out that unlike those supporting proposition 2, those in opposition are mostly Alaska volunteers. They are citizens motivated to maintain a healthy quality of life for our children and our families. Our opponents believe that with access to outside funds they can buy our vote on proposition 2. Let’s tell them that Alaska’s quality of life is not for sale. We have defeated this issue once and we can do it again. Big Marijuana, Big Mistake for Alaska.

Frank Murkowski represented Alaska in the U.S. Senate from 1981-2002 and served as governor from 2002-2006.

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