On Tuesday, Alaska became the third state in the U.S to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The law was passed in the November 2014 election, with 53.2 percent of Alaska voters approving the measure. It takes effect on Tuesday, February 24th.
Alaska joins Colorado and Washington State, becoming the third state to legalize recreational pot smoking. Colorado and Washington passed ballot measures legalizing marijuana in 2012. Voters in Washington D.C. and Oregon also passed legalization initiatives in November 2014. Oregon’s law will go into effect on July 1, 2015. The District of Columbia could see legal marijuana as early as Thursday, February 26, but because of wrangling between Congress and local officials, Washington D.C.’s status remains somewhat nebulous.
The new Alaska law permits residents to grow up to six marijuana plants and to share up to an ounce at a time with other individuals. It also allows private consumption of marijuana, which was already permitted by a 1975 State Supreme Court ruling, but the new measure erased ambiguity by overriding some laws that contradicted the Court’s ruling. Public consumption of pot is still prohibited, and anyone caught smoking marijuana in public could be subject to a 100 dollar fine.
Reacting to the law’s implementation, Alaska’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board issued an emergency regulation Tuesday morning, to define a public place. The regulation stipulated that, for the purposes of marijuana consumption, a public place is defined as:
A place to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access and includes highways, transportation facilities, schools, places of amusement or business, parks, playgrounds, prisons, and hallways, lobbies, and other portions of apartment houses and hotels not constituting rooms or apartments designed for actual residence.
While Anchorage has permitted the operation of Cannabis Cafes, which would permit pot use inside, the small town of Wasilla scrambled to impose specific restrictions just hours before the law took effect. Wasilla is best known for its most famous resident, Sarah Palin, who was mayor of the city of approximately 8,000 residents, from 1996-2002.
In an effort to neutralize much of the new state law, the Wasilla City Council voted 4-2 to pass stricter restrictions on pot use. The city regulations banned cannabis clubs and required even people smoking in their own homes to “cease immediately”, if their smoking disturbed neighbors. In addition, the Wasilla City Council explicitly banned making marijuana edibles at home. By outlawing pot brownies, and by giving neighbors the authority to ask residents not to smoke weed if it disturbs them, Wasilla’s law is believed to be the strictest in the state, regarding marijuana use.
Sarah Palin is no longer in Wasilla city government. The voters in the town she once represented, are about evenly split on whether they support legal marijuana. Although Measure 2 which legalized pot consumption passed statewide in November, Mayor Bert Cottle noted that the town voted against the bill, albeit by just a 52-48 margin. Palin herself, to some extent, reflects the split personality local voters in Wasilla have towards weed.
In 2010, on the FOX Business Network, Palin appeared with Ron Paul and suggested that police should concentrate on more pressing issues than prosecuting marijuana criminals. She described marijuana use as, “relatively speaking, (a) minimal problem”. Of course she also made it clear she was not for outright legalization, stating her case, as follows:
If we’re talking about pot, I’m not for the legalization of pot. I think that would just encourage our young people to think that it was OK to go ahead and use it.
The city officials in Wasilla seem to be striking a similar tone. Their message for residents is something like, pot use is kind of sort of okay, but we certainly don’t want to encourage people to sneak weed into baked goods or to offend their neighbors. Libertarian-style conservatism has its limits in the town that launched Sarah Palin’s career. They draw the line at pot brownies.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.