Today, Tuesday Feb 24, 2015, Alaska became the third U.S. state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults, but it was a subdued milestone.
Unlike in Colorado and Washington state, there were no street parties and public smoking displays in Alaska’s biggest cities. But backers of legal pot said the mild reaction was fitting because they are aiming to promote responsible consumption of marijuana as they work with lawmakers during the next few months in preparing its sale.
On this Tuesday, police in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, were prepared to hand out $100 fines for people smoking marijuana in public. But officers working the first shift after it became legal at 12:01 a.m. didn’t encounter anyone consuming marijuana in public.
Placing Alaska in the same category as Washington state and Colorado with legal marijuana was the goal of the pro-pot coalition that included libertarians, rugged individualists and small-government Republicans who prize the privacy rights enshrined in the Alaska state constitution. Legalization is expected in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
Despite the statewide directive, Alaska still allows different communities across the state to adopt different standards of what smoking in public means to them. In Anchorage, for instance, Police Chief Mark Mew warned people against smoking on their porches if they live next to a park. But far to the north, in North Pole, smoking outdoors on private property will be OK as long as it doesn’t create a nuisance, officials there said.
In some respects, the confusion continues a four-decade reality for Alaskans and their relationship with marijuana.
While the 1975 Alaska Supreme Court decision protected personal marijuana possession and a 1998 initiative legalized medicinal marijuana, state lawmakers twice criminalized any possession over the years, creating an odd legal limbo.
As of Tuesday, adult Alaskans can not only keep and use pot, they can transport, grow it and give it away. A second phase, creating a regulated and taxed marijuana market, won’t start until 2016 at the earliest. That’s about the same timeline for Oregon, where voters approved legalizing marijuana the same day as Alaska did but the law there doesn’t go into effect until July 1.
Voters in Washington, D.C., also legalized marijuana in the November election, and it was set to become legal Thursday after congressional attempts to block it failed. Adults in the nation’s capital can possess up to 2 ounces, but Congress has forbidden sales of pot there. Public use is prohibited. Washington state and Colorado voters legalized marijuana in 2012 and sales have started there.
The Alaska pro-marijuana group anticipates more states will begin legalizing pot. “I think we’ve reached a tipping point on people’s thinking about marijuana in this country,” someone said.