ANCHORAGE Voters soundly rejected a ballot initiative that would have legalized marijuana and hemp products, making Alaska's marijuana laws the most liberal in the country.
With nearly 80 percent of precincts reporting, 61 percent of voters rejected Ballot Measure 5 in Tuesday's general election.
In Juneau, voters in the House district that includes downtown and Douglas narrowly favored the initiative, 3,376-3,328. But voters in the Mendenhall Valley and Auke Bay opposed it by a margin of about 1,100 votes, in the unofficial returns.
Lynda Adams of Ketchikan, who helped spearhead the Vote No on 5 group that worked to defeat the initiative, said Alaskans' common sense prevailed over Outside interests and their money.
"I think it is a victory for all Alaskans," Adams said. "I think we have some really smart people in our state."
With about half of precincts reporting Tuesday night, Free Hemp in Alaska, the most visible of four groups that worked to get the initiative passed, said it was too soon to comment. This morning, a woman who answered the phone in Anchorage said group leaders were either asleep or at breakfast. Leaders of other pro-legalization groups could not be reached for comment, either.
The ballot measure would have done away with civil and criminal penalties for people 18 or over who use marijuana or hemp products. Law enforcement agencies would have handled marijuana the way they now do alcohol. People previously convicted of marijuana crimes would have been granted amnesty and an avenue would have been opened to paying restitution to people fined or imprisoned for marijuana crimes.
Supporters of the ballot measure argued decriminalizing marijuana would free Alaska from a demoralizing and costly drug war that is putting basically good, law-abiding citizens in prison.
"I think it is ridiculous to outlaw marijuana," said Mike Johnson of Anchorage, after casting his vote in favor of the initiative. Johnson, a retired oil service company manager, said he used to live in drug-tolerant Holland and finds decriminalization a better approach.
Opponents said if marijuana was legal, it would lead to big-time drug dealers setting up commercial growing operations in Alaska and increase drug problems among teen-agers.
"Youth have a hard enough time controlling their passions," said Bob Och of Anchorage, who voted "no" on the initiative even though he admits smoking a little marijuana when he was younger. "We already have enough problems with alcohol."
A decade ago, Alaskans were allowed to have small amounts of marijuana under a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court ruling that included home use under the state's constitutional right to privacy. In 1990, voters recriminalized pot, although it is still a matter of debate whether the Supreme Court ruling stands. Two years ago, Alaskans voted to legalize medical marijuana.
Empire staff writer Bill McAllister contributed to this article.
Juneau Empire ©2014. All Rights Reserved.