Thank you for this opportunity to respond to Gov. and First Lady Knowles' views on the "hemp" initiative. As a parent and doctor I also am extremely protective of Alaskan children and appreciate their similar concern.
However, their commentary is misleading in several ways. Access to marijuana would only be available to people over the age of 18, and the Legislature could change that age to 21, as we have done with alcohol. Alcohol is by far a much greater social menace, as a call to any emergency room department would confirm. I have occasionally seen in my practice individuals who abuse marijuana. However, this is rare compared to the prevalence of alcohol's destructive potential on hearts, livers, brains and families.
The Knowles' expressed concern about the cost of the "convicts be[ing] released, their records expunged, and receive[ing] reimbursement for their time served and fines paid." No restitution is required. Only an advisory panel is mandated.
This initiative would save money because the state would no longer be paying for the keep of these individuals, and the justice system could re-direct its budget and efforts to curtailing criminals who steal, maim or kill. By and large, marijuana "criminals" are not hurting anyone.
Actually, regulating marijuana like alcohol would be a source of income for Alaska, undercutting the current black market economy which generates considerable revenue, none of which is taxable. California's history of marijuana buying clubs is "scarred" principally because of federal interference in attempts to provide medical marijuana to individuals in need.
As a family doctor, my goals for community health include individuals not smoking anything at all, and maintaining appropriate body weight through judicious exercise and diet consisting of clean protein, organic produce and plenty of plain water. However, in that it is widely accepted that adults take pleasure in consumption of unhealthful indulgences, I would hope that Alaskans could feel pride in taking the lead towards decriminalizing a recreational substance approximately as dangerous as espresso.
Emily Kane is a naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist who lives in Juneau.