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Alaska

Is weed legal in Alaska?

With the passage of Measure 2 in 2014, Alaska became the third state to legalize recreational cannabis. Medical cannabis use was legalized in 1998 after voters approved the Alaska Medical Marijuana Initiative, or Measure 8.

Legislation history

Alaska was the second state in the U.S. to decriminalize cannabis after President Richard Nixon passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act in 1971. In 1975, the state legislature imposed a $100 fine for possession, effectively decriminalizing the plant, though stopping short of legalizing it.

Also that year the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in Ravin v. State that Alaskan adults had the right to use and possess a small amount of cannabis for personal use, according to Alaska’s constitutional rights to personal privacy. In 1982, the $100 fine was removed. In 1986, the Alaska legislature decriminalized the possession of up to 4 ounces of marijuana (113.4 grams) in the home and up to 1 ounce (28.35 grams) outside of the home.

However, the pendulum swung back toward prohibition in the late 1980s. On the heels of multiple cannabis trafficking busts, voters in 1990 approved the Alaska Marijuana Criminalization Initiative, or Ballot Measure 2. This law made possession of small amounts of marijuana a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine.

The pendulum of public opinion swung again in 1998 when voters passed the Alaska Medical Marijuana Initiative, or Measure 8, a bill that legalized medical cannabis use for qualifying individuals. While the measure legalized cannabis possession and use, there was no legal way for patients and caregivers to obtain the plant.

Anti-cannabis sentiment gained the upper hand in 2006 when the legislature once again criminalized possession. This law was heavily pushed by Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski, who was publicly against cannabis use.

Finally, Alaska’s Measure 2, or The Alaska Marijuana Legalization Initiative, was approved by 53% of voters in 2014 allowing for the regulation, production, sale, and use of recreational cannabis. The measure went into effect in February 2015.

Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer signed off on the state’s approved regulations for onsite consumption on March 12, 2019, and the laws went into effect on April 11, 2019. The onsite consumption rules give each local government jurisdiction over its own county and the ability to determine its own onsite regulations.

Measure 2’s passage changed the Alcohol Beverage Control Board into the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office (AMCO), which established the Marijuana Control Board (MCB) in 2015 to regulate and govern recreational cannabis use.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) oversees the Medical Marijuana Registry.

Where is it safe to purchase?

Under Measure 2, adults 21 and older are able to purchase and consume cannabis from state-licensed retailers and establishments with a valid onsite consumption endorsement. They are able to purchase up to 1 ounce (28.35 grams) of marijuana, 7 grams of cannabis concentrate, or total cannabis with fewer than 5.6 grams of THC. Adults looking to consume cannabis onsite are limited to purchasing no more than 1 gram with a limit of 10 milligrams of THC per transaction.

Cannabis shoppers in Alaska must show a valid state ID as proof of age. At this time, retail stores accept cash only. Consumers are not subject to any sales or use tax on cannabis purchases, but a $50-per-ounce (28.35 grams) tax is levied when cultivators sell to manufacturers or dispensaries, who build that into the retail price.

There are currently no dispensaries offering specifically medical cannabis for purchase. Therefore, patients and caregivers must purchase marijuana at licensed recreational retailers. Patients younger than 21 must have a caregiver purchase cannabis products on their behalf.

Alaska law prohibits the home delivery of cannabis products to consumers.

Where is it safe to consume?

Public cannabis consumption is prohibited by state law. Legal consumption may occur on private property or in an establishment with a valid onsite consumption endorsement. Adults can consume flower, edibles, concentrates, oils, tinctures, salves, drinks, patches, and topical cannabis products.

Possession

Legal consumers may possess 1 ounce (28.35 grams) of any form of marijuana. They may also give, but not sell, up to 1 ounce of marijuana and six immature plants to a person who is 21 or older.

View the marijuana laws & regulations for Alaska.

Legal cannabis a growing industry in Skagway, Alaska

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‘Alaskans love their weed, so there is definitely a demand for it,’ says the owner of a Skagway grow-op

Tiffany Metz runs her hands through rows of marijuana plants she’s grown with her partner, Coop Briody, in Skagway, Alaska.

“Give them some interaction — like I’m a little bird or a little mouse, out in the wilderness,” said Metz, describing how she cares for the 100 plants she cultivates, in a re-purposed sea container on her property.

Briody and Metz’s grow operation — named Coyote and Toad’s Garden, after their childhood nicknames — has been fully operational for a year now. The business supplies five recreational cannabis store across Alaska, including one in Skagway.

“Alaskans love their weed, so there is definitely a demand for it — and we grow it,” said Metz.

Alaskans voted in favour of legalization in 2014, but the state has had a complicated history with the substance. In a 1975 decision (Ravin v. State), the Alaska Supreme Court protected a person’s right to privacy and allowed adults to use and keep small amounts of cannabis at home.

Now, Alaska cultivators can apply for limited or standard licences to grow marijuana. Limited licences are cheaper and intended for small operations of 500-square-feet or less — like Coyote and Toad’s Garden .

Briody and Metz feel the decision to allow Alaska growing licences for small operations was crucial in getting their business off the ground.

In Canada, only the federal government will be able to grant commercial cannabis growing licences, but the exact process is still unclear.

‘Positive changes in culture’

One of the biggest changes Briody and Metz have noticed since legalization is the openness of the community to talking about cannabis.

“Just positive changes in culture. People are getting to know the plant more,” said Metz.

“Getting to know different strains, where the plant comes from, and what works for them — because everybody is so different, so just the knowledge is being spread about these great strains.”

“We couldn’t have gotten this going without the community, that’s for sure,” said Briody.

Skagway voted 75 per cent in favour of legalization. After the state enacted legislation, it was up to individual municipalities to decide whether they would to grant licences for things like recreational pot shops and grow-ops.

“We have a grow facility here, we have a dispensary, and it’s quiet,” said Scott Hahn, Skagway Borough Chief. “It’s a good story I guess, if you’re pro-marijuana.”

There haven’t been any changes in crime rates since legalization, according to Hahn, and municipal taxes collected from the local cannabis shop are going back into the town’s operations and capital expenses.

Hahn could not disclose how much the city is earning in marijuana-related taxes, because they are only coming from one business.

In March, Alaska collected $1.1 million in state cannabis taxes. Monthly state taxes are expected to stay well into the millions, according to Alaska Department of Labour. Marijuana is taxed at $50 an ounce when being transferred or sold between cultivators and retail shops.

“This is one of the brighter spots in our economy, and probably one of the fastest growing industries right now,” said Neal Fried, a researcher with the Alaska Department of Labor. “That might change as it matures, but it’s certainly not anywhere close to maturing.”

Hundreds of jobs for Alaskans

As of December, there were 530 jobs in Alaska directly related to the cannabis industry, representing about $3.9 million in payroll, according to the Alaska Department of Labor.

Fried expects there are closer to 600 jobs in the industry by now, and more expected to come. He said there are as many licences waiting for state approval as there are currently operating across Alaska.

“If that comes to fruition, we will see a continued dramatic increase in players in this industry,” he said.

Marijuana is still illegal under U.S. federal law. In Alaska, the industry is regulated by state laws, and all operations and production has to be done in state, by Alaska residents.

The discrepancy between federal and state laws has caused problems for some licensed businesses.

In late March, the Steep Hill Alaska marijuana testing facility in Anchorage closed because the bank, Wells Fargo, took back a loan on the business’s building after learning it was a marijuana operation.

Federal banking regulations prevent U.S. banks from knowingly working with marijuana businesses, forcing all cannabis operations in Alaska to deal strictly in cash in order to operate.

According to state regulations, no one under the age of 21 can buy or possess cannabis. It’s also illegal to consume cannabis in public spaces, or bring it across the border.

Not promoted to tourists, yet

Skagway is expecting almost 900,000 cruise ship passengers this year.

Cannabis tourism isn’t something Skagway is currently looking to promote, partly because there is nowhere for visitors to legally consume the product.

The Remedy Shoppe in Skagway was the first licensed recreational dispensary in the state, but there is nowhere for customers to legally consume products on site.

The store owners hope to eventually have a licensed backyard patio where people will be able to legally use cannabis products. The Skagway tourism office says it may reconsider promoting the industry if that happens.

Remedy Shoppe owner Tara Bass said her business has no specific clientele. She says she sees everyone from elderly women to middle-aged businessmen in her shop.

She says one thing legalization has clearly done is to change people’s perceptions of who a typical cannabis user is.

Alaskans voted in 2014 to legalise pot, now it's a big part of some local economies.