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31 Alaska Just. F. 1 (2014-2015)

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P     [Revised 21 October 20141

Spring/Summer 2014                         UNIVERSITY of ALASiKA ANCHORAGE                                     Vol. 31, No. 1-2

  Shifting Marijuana Laws and Policies: Implications for Alaska

Jason Brandeis
   Marijuana regulation continues to be a
pressing criminal justice and social policy
issue both in Alaska and across the nation.
Nearly one-third of the states have de-
criminalized possession of small amounts
of marijuana and nearly half have legalized
marijuana for medical use. (See Figure 1.)
Recently, voters in Colorado and Wash-
ington further shifted the marijuana law
paradigm by approving ballot measures that
legalized recreational marijuana use and
established comprehensive licensing and
regulatory frameworks for the production
and commercial sale of marijuana.
   Changes to state drug laws that allow
commercial marijuana transactions and relax
or eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana

use and possession raise constitutional issues
(see Table 1, p. 18). Such laws conflict with
the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the
federal law that makes all marijuana use,
possession, and sale illegal. Since 1996,
when California became the first state to
enact a medical marijuana law, numerous
federal prosecutions have been filed against
medical marijuana providers who were
operating under valid state laws. But fol-
lowing legalization in Colorado and Wash-
ington, the federal government's approach to
marijuana enforcement has shifted. The U.S.
Department of Justice recently announced
a new policy that respects state efforts to
legalize and decriminalize marijuana, the
U.S. Treasury Department issued guidelines
intended to make it easier for banks to work

with marijuana-related business, and Con-
gress is considering several bills aimed at
reforming the federal marijuana prohibition.
   Such changes to other states' marijuana
laws and to federal marijuana enforce-
ment policies are of particular relevance to
Alaska because these changes could have
consequences for Alaska's existing medi-
cal and recreational marijuana laws. And,
although Alaska does not currently have a
regulated commercial marijuana market like
Colorado and Washington, it soon may. A
ballot measure that would legalize, tax, and
regulate marijuana in Alaska will be before
the state's voters at the November 2014
general election.
   This article summarizes Alaska's current
marijuana laws, identifies recent changes
to other state laws and federal policies re-
lated to marijuana use and possession, and
discusses the impact of those changes on
Alaska's marijuana laws.
Decriminalization, Legalization, and
Alaska's Unique Marijuana Laws
   A state is considered to have decriminal-
ized marijuana if it has removed the threat
of jail or prison time for the lowest-level
marijuana offenses, generally personal pos-
session of small amounts of marijuana. Such
possession often still carries a penalty, but
instead of imprisonment, the sanction is
a civil fine. Jurisdictions that continue to
classify marijuana possession as a crime, but
do not impose prison time for first offenses
(but do so for subsequent offenses), can also

           Please see Marijuana, page 18

   Statistics for homelessness in Alaska and the
  U.S. (page 2).
   SB64 and the Alaska Criminal Justice
  Commission (page 11).
   The Alaska Court System's Early Resolution
  Program for family law cases (page 13).

Figure 1. State-Level Marijuana Legalization and Decriminalization
   Z  Legalized medical marijuana laws             Legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized
                                         marijuana possession laws
      Decriminalized marijuana possession laws     Legalized medical and recreational marijuana laws
      (generally, jail time removed for possession of
      small amounts)

Note: The Alaska Supreme Court has found that the state constitution's right to privacy protects
   an adult's ability to possess modest amounts of marijuana in the home for personal use.
 Sources of data: New York Times; National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws;
     Marijuana Policy Project; National Conference of State Legislatures; news reports

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