Alaskans may get the chance to make their state the third to fully legalize marijuana this year.
Backers of a plan to tax and regulate marijuana said Wednesday they've gathered 45,000 signatures to get the issue on the state's primary ballot in August. They turned them over to the state's lieutenant governor, as required under state law.
The signatures must now be certified by state officials.
If approved, Alaska would join Colorado and Washington state as the only states to allow the recreational use of marijuana. Twenty states allow marijuana to be used for medical reasons.
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The Alaska initiative would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and up to six plants legal for adults 21 years of age or older. And the manufacture, sale and possession of marijuana accessories would be legal, as well.
Under the initiative, consumption of marijuana in public would remain illegal and be punishable by a $100 fine.
It would grant regulatory oversight to the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board but allow the state's legislature to create a new Marijuana Control Board at any time. Localities would be allowed to ban marijuana establishments, but they could not prohibit private possession and home cultivation. And employers would be allowed to maintain restrictions on marijuana use by employees
"Regulating marijuana in Alaska will allow law enforcement officials to focus on violent and otherwise harmful crimes instead of adults who are simply choosing to use a substance objectively less harmful than alcohol," said former Department of Corrections Deputy Commissioner Bill Parker, one of the main sponsors of the initiative.
He said that marijuana prohibition "has been just as big a failure as alcohol prohibition" and that he's confident that Alaska voters will approve the measure.
Tom Hinterberger, another sponsor and professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said the plan will "bolster Alaska's economy by creating jobs and generating revenue for the state." It would establish an excise tax of $50 per ounce on sales.
Colorado opened its retail pot shops on Jan. 1, and Washington state is expected to follow suit by June.
"Colorado is demonstrating to the rest of the nation that regulating marijuana works," said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project in Denver, a group that's backing the Alaska initiative. "Voters around the country are fed up with our failed prohibition policies. Alaska is poised to be the next state to regulate marijuana like alcohol, and it won't be long before more states follow."