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Alaskans reject marijuana and bear baiting measures

Voters pass U.S. Senate vacancies initiative

Posted: Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Nearly 55 percent of Alaska voters supported taking away the governor's power to appoint a U.S. senator as votes were tallied late Tuesday, but other ballot measures failed or were too close to call.

About two-thirds of the state's precincts were counted by the Empire's press time.

Voters rejected, 118,000 to 89,000, an initiative that would make it legal to buy, sell, use and grow marijuana, with 281 of 439 precincts counted. Alaskans also opposed an initiative banning bear baiting, 121,000 to 84,000, with 281 precincts counted.

A constitutional amendment establishing more stringent guidelines for collecting signatures for ballot initiatives remained tightly contested at press time, with 101,000 votes for it and 96,000 against it, after 281 precincts were counted.

The initiative taking away the governor's power to fill U.S. Senate vacancies was filed in response to Gov. Frank Murkowski appointing his daughter to fill his Senate seat in 2002, when he returned to Alaska to serve as governor. At press time, the measure led 111,000 to 91,000.

It was a hard-fought battle to get the measure on the ballot for the three Democratic lawmakers who sponsored it. They took Lt. Gov. Loren Leman to court four times before the issue was approved by the chief elections official.

"It's a victory for democracy," said state Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, a sponsor of the initiative. "There was never any doubt that if we got it to the people, they would approve it."

The initiative banning bear baiting would have made it a misdemeanor to intentionally feed bears for the purpose of hunting, viewing or photographing them. The proposed law would have been punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and up to a year in jail.

"When we crafted the thing last spring it probably would have passed by 75 percent," according to Hoonah hunting guide John Erickson, who helped write the initiative. "It was strictly a hunting thing."

Erickson said he thought that the proposal was misrepresented in the state voters' guide by scaring voters into thinking that they could be fined for photographing bears or attracting bears with backyard bird feeders. He said Citizens Against Bear Baiting, the group that introduced the initiative, was outspent by its opponents.

"They had lots of money," he said. "We had a very small budget."

The proposal to decriminalize the possession of marijuana, despite sponsors tempering their approach since the last legalization attempt, was close to defeat Tuesday at press time. The proposal would have made it legal for those 21 and over to possess, sell, use and grow the drug.

A similar initiative on the ballot in 2000 would have made the legal age 18 and would have provided amnesty for those convicted of marijuana-related crimes. That proposal was opposed by about 59 percent of the voters.

David Finkelstein, a former state Democratic lawmaker and treasurer of one of several pro-marijuana groups in Anchorage, said television and radio news outlets in Anchorage sensationalized a recent murder that was allegedly tied to marijuana use.

"I'm not saying we would have won otherwise, but it derailed the campaign and made it hard to get our message out," he said. "It's just one of those things that's hard to control."



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