Posted June 3, 2015 09:38 pm

Welcome to HIGHER EDUCATION

Let's talk marijuana. Specifically, Alaska marijuana.

Higher Education is a new feature I'm rolling out to cover the progress of the legal marijuana industry in Alaska. I find it interesting, and if you're reading this, I hope you do, too.

This is James Brooks, city editor of the Juneau Empire. I've lived in Alaska since 2008, having arrived fresh out of college. When I accepted a job at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, I didn't know what to expect. I've since moved on to the Kodiak Daily Mirror, and now to the Juneau Empire, and I can still say I don't know what to expect.

When campaigning for Ballot Measure 2 started in 2013, I didn't think it would pass. I signed the petition to put it on the ballot (offering my signature to a friendly man outside Kodiak's Safeway grocery) but I assumed that it would go the same way that all the rest of Alaska's attempts to legalize marijuana had gone.

After all, Ravin v. State had effectively legalized marijuana at home in Alaska 40 years before, and I didn't think voters would upset the apple cart, even though I ended up writing an editorial in favor of a "yes" vote.

Instead, voters did upset that apple cart, voting by a 53-47 margin to make Alaska the third state in the U.S. to make recreational marijuana legal.

Now, marijuana is never going to surpass oil in Alaska as a revenue source. It's never going to beat fishing for the number of people it employs, and it's not going to bring more tourists than Alaska's glaciers whales and simple beauty already do. 

What makes it interesting to me is the fact that Alaska's only the third state to legalize it for recreational use. Look internationally, and you'll see Alaska doesn't have much company on the legalization front.

That's what makes it news. Even though not everyone uses marijuana (call it cannabis, pot, weed, whatever you want), what Alaska does in the next few months and years is going to be an example for millions of people in the United States and around the world. Legalization is spreading — whether you think that's a good thing or a bad thing, it can't be argued — and Alaska is among the first wave.

The goal of this blog is to keep you at the crest of that wave, to let you know what's happening in Alaska's marijuana industry both with new business and regulation. I've already written a bit on the marijuana industry in the pages of the Juneau Empire, and I'll keep doing that. This is extra information, for people who are interested in broadening their knowledge beyond the basic. Think of it as higher education on marijuana.

News to know

One of the regular features I hope to provide is a look at what's happening elsewhere. These links are good tidbits I've dredged from across the Web and think are worth sharing:

• In the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, there was what Capitol Hill news source The Hill called a marijuana vote-a-rama. Lawmakers voted on four marijuana-related amendments to a spending bill in rapid succession, and all were intended to get the federal government to back off on prosecuting marijuana cases in states that have legalized the plant. Three of the four amendments passed, meaning that if they're approved by the U.S. Senate (much harder than passing the House) and signed by President Obama, the Drug Enforcement Agency would have no money to prosecute cases against state-legal medical marijuana businesses.

Even more importantly for Alaska is the amendment that failed. That amendment, cosponsored by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, would have done the same thing for recreational marijuana businesses. That amendment failed by only a handful of votes, 206-222.

The Delaware House of Representatives has voted to decriminalize marijuana possession. That bill still must be passed by the state's Senate and signed by it's governor, but it would make marijuana crimes finable offenses, not jailable ones.

• The most popular marijuana shop in Washington state is the one right across the border from Oregon. That story by Casey Parks of the Oregonian also has an interesting tidbit: Washington state's marijuana sales tally gone up every month since legalization took effect. In May, $41.5 million worth of product was sold legally. Oregon, like Alaska, legalized recreational marijuana in November, and like in Alaska, legal sales begin next year.

• Indiana's Church of Marijuana, which views cannabis as a sacrament, has received tax-exempt status from the IRS.

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