LOS ANGELES – The recreational use of marijuana became legal in Alaska on Tuesday, but many regulations are still being drafted and police in at least one major city will enforce a ban on using weed in public places.
Alaska is the third state in the nation to legalize recreational use of marijuana, still a federally prohibited substance. Colorado and the state of Washington have also allowed the recreational use of the drug.
In Alaska, anyone older than 21 will be allowed to possess up to an ounce of pot and have up to six plants growing on private property. However, buying and selling and smoking the drug in public spaces remains illegal.
Voters in the Republican state voted for legalization, 52.15 percent to 47.85 percent. But the measure did not define all issues, including what would be considered a public space.
Alaska’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board met Tuesday morning and unanimously passed a measure to broadly define public space to include streets, parks, schools and places where people usually meet. The board is charged with developing regulations for pot usage.
Gov. Bill Walker filed legislation on Monday to create a marijuana control board, similar to the body that controls alcohol sales. The new board, if created, would likely share staff with the alcohol regulators, the board was told.
Creating the new regulations will be a major step, officials and proponents agree.
“Now that the campaign is over, it’s time to establish a robust regulatory system that sets an example for other states,” said Taylor Bickford, spokesperson for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which spearheaded the successful referendum last fall that led to the legalization.
“A regulated marijuana market will generate millions of dollars in tax revenue and create good jobs for Alaskans,” Bickford said in a statement. “Law enforcement will be able to spend their time addressing serious crimes instead of enforcing failed marijuana prohibition laws. We look forward to working with state officials and other stakeholders to ensure the new law is implemented responsibly and in a way that reflects the will of the voters.”
In January, local officials passed an ordinance making smoking marijuana in public a violation, punishable by a $100 fine.
Police in Anchorage have said they will enforce the public smoking law.State regulators are still drafting rules covering taxation and sale of marijuana, which must be adopted by Nov. 24.
In addition to Colorado and Washington, Oregon voters in November approved a measure similar to Alaska’s, though the drug becomes legal in July. A ballot initiative legalizing marijuana possession but not retail sales was overwhelmingly approved in Washington, D.C. Supporters of legalization are eyeing campaigns in California, Arizona, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts.