Pot petition has enough signatures to make ballot

Katrin Haugh, left, and Carol Thompson, of the Absentee and Petition Office, begin processing 20 boxes of over 46,000 signatures for a proposed ballot initiative to legalize recreational use of marijuana in Alaska, on Wednesday, Jan. 8 at the state Division of Elections office in Anchorage. If enough signatures are verified -— they need about 30,000 qualified signatures — the question of whether to make pot legal in the nation's northernmost state will go before voters in the Aug. 19 primary. Signatures must come from at least 7 percent of voters in at least 30 House districts.

ANCHORAGE — Enough petition signatures have been verified to place an initiative seeking to legalize marijuana on the ballot this summer in Alaska, election officials said Tuesday.

The petition has met all the thresholds necessary to appear on the Aug. 19 primary ballot, the Alaska Division of Elections said.

The lieutenant governor’s office said it had verified the signatures from registered voters as of Monday evening. The total of 31,500 was a thousand more than needed, with about 6,000 signatures remaining to be checked.

The office has not yet certified the question for the ballot, but it’s expected to do so in the coming weeks.

“It’s good news,” said Bill Parker, an Anchorage man who was one of and initial sponsor of the initiative.

No formal opposition has formed to the initiative.

Voters in Colorado and Washington state legalized marijuana last year, and the language of the Alaska initiative is similar to the Colorado measure.

Organizers in Alaska submitted more than 46,000 signatures on Jan. 8 to the elections office.

The initiative would make it legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and as many as six plants, including three that are flowering.

It also makes the manufacture, sale and possession of marijuana accessories legal but does not allow public consumption of weed. Anyone smoking in public would face a $100 fine.

The proposed initiative would grant regulatory control to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and give the Legislature the option to create a marijuana control board.

Alaska has had a complex history with marijuana. The state Supreme Court ruled in 1975 than banning home use and possession of small amounts of pot violated the state constitution’s right to privacy. The court didn’t define what amount of pot was legal to have at home, but the Legislature in 1982 set the amount at less than 4 ounces. That amount was later reduced to one ounce.

In 2006 the Legislature recriminalized possession of marijuana at home. The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska challenged the law on privacy grounds and won in Superior Court. The state appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, which threw out the lower court decision but didn’t clarify the conflict with the earlier law.

Organizers have said if passed, the initiative would bring the state back in line with the 1975 Supreme Court decision.

Parker said Alaska was once a leader in liberal marijuana laws and has a chance to be one again.

However, Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, president of the Alaska Senate, said last month that he was confused by the initiative in the state that has such a Libertarian bent.

“I’ve never used marijuana in my life, but why we would invite the state or the federal government or whatever form it is, to come and in say, we’re going to tax it,” he said. “We don’t like taxes around here.”

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