Alaskans will likely vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana this summer, now that a ballot initiative campaign has garnered enough signatures to appear on the August 19 ballot. The lieutenant governor must still approve the wording of the initiative, but is expected to do so in the coming weeks.
The Alaska initiative is modeled on Colorado’s law to remove criminal penalties for adult use of recreational marijuana, and regulate the distribution like alcohol. Recent polling suggests the measure will pass, with a 2013 survey from Public Policy Polling finding 54 percent would support a legalization ballot initiative. This is a major shift from 2004, when just 38 percent supported such a measure. Alaska would be the third state to pass such a law.
In January, the New Hampshire House became the first legislative chamber to pass a recreational marijuana legalization measure, but the bill is not expected to survive review by the Senate and governor. And several other states are considering ballot initiatives, including Massachusetts, California, Arizona, and Wyoming.
The August vote is expected to draw what one Anchorage pollster predicted could be the “one of the highest primary turnouts we’ve ever had,” with a contested Senate primary on the ballot, in addition to several other major ballot questions on topics that include an oil tax and the minimum wage.
A Washington, D.C. marijuana bill also advanced this week. The legislative proposal to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana cleared the first vote by the full City Council, although council members weakened the law by retaining some lighter criminal penalties for smoking marijuana in public after D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D), who had initially expressed wholehearted support for the bill, worried in a letter to the council that the bill created insufficient deterrents to public smoking. Even in Colorado, public smoking is a petty offense that can carry 15 days in jail.