A citizens' group hoping to make Alaska the third state in the nation to legalize recreational use of marijuana took a step closer Wednesday, submitting more than 46,000 signatures to the state election office.
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.
"It's clear that Alaskans are eager to have an opportunity to express their displeasure with the current system and make a change," said one of sponsors, Tim Hinterberger, a professor in the School of Medical Education at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
"I have a great feeling today," said another sponsor, Mary Reff, after she and other volunteers carried in 20 boxes of signatures to the state elections office in Anchorage.
Voters in Colorado and Washington state last year legalized marijuana, and the language of the Alaska initiative is similar to the Colorado measure.
The state has a complicated relationship with marijuana.
The Alaska Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that banning home use and possession of small amounts of marijuana violated a constitutional right to privacy. Since then, activists and others have battled over the law and its implications.
The 1975 decision did not mention a specific amount one could possess, but in 1982 the Alaska Legislature determined less than 4 ounces (113 grams) was fine unless there was evidence of sales or distribution. That amount was later reduced to 1 ounce (28 grams).
The law remains murky. In 2006, the Alaska Legislature passed a law re-criminalizing small amounts of pot at home. The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska challenged the law on privacy grounds and won in Superior Court. But 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.
This initiative, Hinterberger said, will bring Alaska statute into accordance with the 1975 Supreme Court decision and the 1982 possession of one ounce.
No formal opposition has formed to the proposed initiative.
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