Professionals puff in private, pass in public

• No citations on legalization day • Few signs of landmark change in Alaska law

Juneau residents awoke on Feb. 24 to legal weed and a dense fog over the city — just regular fog, not a haze of marijuana smoke as some may have feared.

 

For most marijuana users, this historic day was just a normal Tuesday.

As a matter of fact, Juneau Police Chief Bryce Johnson said he hadn’t heard of anyone being cited for public use of marijuana as of Tuesday afternoon.

Giono and James Barrett, brothers building the foundation for their own marijuana business, maintained their normal routine, working on business plans through the day and taking the occasional smoke break. James had plans to spend time with his daughter in the evening.

The Barretts are open about their use of cannabis — it’s their business, after all — but many others in the community are keeping quiet about what they do in the privacy of their own homes. Possession and use of small quantities of marijuana in a private home has been legal in Alaska under Ravin v. State since 1975.

The Empire contacted marijuana-using Juneau residents through Facebook, but even with legalization at hand, most declined to be named.

“Today is going to be like any other day,” said a woman in her 20s who asked not to be named. “It’s nice to know that the actions of my friends and family — and self — are now legal, but again, it’s still only Tuesday.”

She began using weed for medical purposes when she was diagnosed with a tumor at age 18. Her nervousness before surgery made it difficult to sleep or eat.

“I use it for sleeping, nightmare alleviation, anxiety, depression and anorexia,” she said. She also occasionally uses it for recreational purposes.

A man in his late 30s who also wished to remain unnamed said it was just like any other day, except he “no longer felt like an outlaw.”

A woman in her early 30s likes to “relax and enjoy something that comes from nature,” she said. For a number of reasons, she chooses to not be public about her habits.

One reason for their reluctance to be named is that marijuana is still federally illegal. More than that, the most common reason to remain in the closet about cannabis use is job security.

“I have held my tongue publicly in order to not offend potential clients,” she said.

The woman in her 20s didn’t want to risk losing her job either.

While some concerns are general — that one might be judged by the stereotype of a marijuana user rather than by merit — there are some workplaces that explicitly condemn use of marijuana.

The University of Alaska system, for example, warned its faculty, staff and students in a November letter that “Regents’ Policy, University Regulation and Student Codes Of Conduct related to marijuana are not required to change and are not likely to change. As a result, violating applicable Board of Regents Policy or University Regulation relating to illegal drugs, including marijuana, will continue to result in disciplinary action.”

Juneau Attorney Kevin Higgins said people are right to be concerned.

“It is always a risk, particularly since Alaska is an at-will employment state,” he said. “Theoretically, you could show up to work in your Alaskan Brewing Co. hoodie after a weekend attending the Capital Brew Fest and get fired for being known to exercise your rights under Ballot Measure 2. Social stigma is real, even if it is on the decline. Thankfully, so is the maxim that good help is hard to find.”

Though much remains the same with decriminalization of marijuana in Alaska, there are a couple major differences Higgins pointed out.

One can now carry up to an ounce in public — consumption in public is still illegal — and one can give another person without remuneration up to one ounce or up to six plants with three flowering.

“That’s a really big deal,” Higgins said. “It decriminalizes the action of those who would rather show up to a dinner party with a container of quality marijuana that was locally grown than a bottle of wine that was hastily chosen based on the label.”

Since it will be more than a year before the first legal sales can happen, there’s still a gray area regarding how one obtains marijuana.

Additionally, the state and municipalities are still working on regulations.

“Everything is still subject to some amendment by the Legislature,” Higgins said. “It’s important to remember that.”

• Contact reporter Melissa Griffiths at 523-2272 or at melissa.griffiths@juneauempire.com.

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