On Tuesday, Alaska became the third U.S. state to allow recreational use of marijuana, joining Colorado and Washington. In July, Oregon will become the fourth. The Pacific Northwest has a reputation for relaxed thinking, but Alaska, north to the future — as its state motto runs — and more Pacific, too, has less of a chilled-out, hippie reputation. It is, now that the ballot measure adopted last November has taken effect, the first red state in America to legalize marijuana.

Citizens 21 and older can possess, grow, transport, display, process — though not sell, buy, or publicly smoke — marijuana. Or at least, according to the “Highly Informed” column of Anchorage’s Alaska Dispatch News (send your question to cannabis-north@alaskadispatch.com), you can “possess, grow, process and transport up to six marijuana plants, three of which may be flowering.”

After the last presidential election, Gallup examined the political axis of the United States, and observed that Alaska, which “typically votes Republican and has a high Republican identification… has the highest percentage of moderates” of any state in the country. 

To that end, the state decriminalized marijuana early, in 1975. In 1998, medicinal marijuana became legal, though there are still no medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. Taylor Bickford, spokesperson for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska told Vox, “People here generally want to be left alone and really don’t think the government is the solution to their problems.” 

Despite relatively lax marijuana laws, the government still makes its feeling known; thousands of Alaskans are arrested annually for marijuana possession, at a cost of almost $8.5 million to law enforcement. To the woman who might be the world’s best-known Alaskan, that doesn’t make sense.

Several years ago, Sarah Palin appeared with Ron Paul on Fox to label marijuana a “minimal problem.” She stressed that she doesn’t believe in the legalization, but remarked, “If somebody’s gonna smoke a joint in their house and not do anybody any harm, then perhaps there are other things our cops should be looking at to engage in and try to clean up some of the other problems we have in society.”

The city council on which Palin once served, that of Wasilla — where she went on to be mayor — itself has mixed feelings. On the eve of marijuana legislation, not three hours before marijuana use became legal, Wasilla’s city council made it illegal to make pot brownies (edibles, concentrates, or extracts) at home.

One couple who attended the meeting, Keenan and Sara Williams, are hoping to set up a dispensary in Wasilla next year, once the state clarifies rules for retail operations. They plan to call it Midnight Greenery. During a break at the city- council meeting, Keenan Williams told a reporter that “the ignorance displayed by the council is amazing.” The Alaska Dispatch News reported that some members “displayed confusion about “wet” marijuana compared to cured product, and at least initially seemed to conflate edible products with riskier methods needed to extract marijuana oils.

But many in the know welcomed the news. Tim Hinterberger, chair of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said in a statement that “Alaska now has some of the most sensible marijuana laws in the nation.” The state’s officials are meeting Tuesday to address gaps in the law, and define, for instance, the boundaries of a “public place” where it is illegal to smoke marijuana.

Although some citizens express worry, the more pressing concern, at least among the police, is public health and safety. Jenifer Castro, the Anchorage police spokesperson, told Reuters, “We want to make sure that people are not operating their vehicle impaired or under the influence of marijuana.”

Moderation seems to be working well for Alaska. Last week, as part of its “State of the States” series, Gallup published a bulletin announcing that Alaska leads the whole country in terms of well-being.


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