Alaska voters on track to decide in 2014 whether to legalize pot

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Alaska voters likely will get a chance next year to make their state the third in the country to approve the recreational use of marijuana by adults 21 and older.

Pot backers Tuesday took the first step toward getting the measure on the August 2014 primary ballot, presenting draft language and 100 signatures to the Alaska lieutenant governor’s office.

The measure would tax and regulate marijuana sales and allow Alaskans to cultivate marijuana for personal use.

If state officials decide everything is in order after a 60-day review, backers will have until mid-January to get signatures from 30,169 more people to force a vote, said Steve Fox, the national political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group in Washington, D.C.

Alaskans rejected a legalization initiative in 2004, with only 44 percent of the state’s voters backing the idea.

But Alaska’s marijuana laws are among the most liberal in the nation. In 1975, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that a person’s privacy included the right to possess up to 4 ounces of marijuana in his or her home.

Fox is expecting a better result at the ballot box next year, thanks to growing public support and backing of a national pro-marijuana bill from Republican Rep. Don Young, Alaska’s only congressman.

As a co-sponsor of the new Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013, Young sided with states last Friday in the debate over whether they should have more power than the federal government does in regulating marijuana.

“That was a great surprise,” Fox said. “He’s a longtime Republican representing the entire state. It’s quite significant. It shows the tide is turning.”

The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, would modify the federal Controlled Substances Act to allow anyone who is acting in compliance with a state marijuana law to be immune from federal prosecution.

It comes as Washington state and Colorado, the two states that approved recreational marijuana use last year, await word from the Justice Department on whether they may proceed with plans to open retail pot shops later this year.

Mike Anderson, Young’s press secretary, said the bill “is particularly important for a state such as Alaska,” which approved a ballot measure in 1998 that allows residents to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

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Alaska voters on track to decide in 2014 whether to legalize pot

Article by Rob HoTakainen for The Seattle Times