What comes to mind when thinking of Alaska? It’s probably one of the most beautiful and scenic states in this fine Union. Alaska’s population is quite low, and residents find it prudent to protect the environment. National parks are abundant, while the people are hardworking, familiar with extreme weather, and family-oriented. Similar to the state of Washington, Alaska goes the extra mile in respecting its indigenous communities – one of the largest in the nation.
The state has a rich history of cannabis use, owing to beliefs of freedom along the American Frontier, yet federal law has complicated the relationship. Can I get weed legal in Alaska, you ask?
The short answer: Yes. And as we will see, the story is far from over.
Quick History of Marijuana in Alaska
Alaska’s marijuana history is intriguing and goes a while back. During the 1970s, a landmark case, Ravin v. Alaska, resulted in the Supreme Court siding with the plaintiff and ruled that marijuana consumption is a private right and should not be infringed upon by state authorities if a person has a small amount in the confines of their residence.
Alaska paved the way for decriminalizing and permitting possession and was the first state to consider smoking marijuana to be a Constitutional right. The court’s ruling went as follows:
"…we conclude that no adequate justification for the state’s intrusion into the citizen’s right to privacy by its prohibition of possession of marijuana by an adult for personal consumption in the home has been shown. The privacy of the individual’s home cannot be breached absent a persuasive showing of a close and substantial relationship of the intrusion to a legitimate governmental interest. Here, mere scientific doubts will not suffice. The state must demonstrate a need based on proof that the public health or welfare will in fact suffer if the controls are not applied."
What makes this decision even more important for marijuana advocacy is that it gave other courts a ruling to cite in other decisions revolving personal consumption of marijuana. From then on, many US states have moved to legalize marijuana use. And so, let’s tip our caps to the Supreme Court of Alaska.
In a matter of a few years, Alaskan politicians decriminalized personal marijuana possession and consumption. The pro-marijuana tide, however, shifted after the Reagan wave, and the state choosing to criminalize marijuana possession again in 1990.
In 2003, the Alaska Court dealt a major blow to the conservative push to ban marijuana and ruled that people should have the right to possess under 4 ounces for personal use.
All this turmoil gave way to full cannabis legalization in 2014. Voters in the state passed Alaska Measure 2, which permitted personal consumption and personal cultivation of marijuana. Like many other legal marijuana markets, Alaska marijuana laws change frequently. Here is what you need to know about legal weed in Alaska:
Public Consumption of Marijuana in Alaska
It’s best for you to not smoke marijuana on public property. Even though recreational marijuana was legalized, it doesn’t permit public consumption. Marijuana users can’t smoke in public areas or near schools – a failure to abide by these rules may result in some hefty fines and possible criminal charges. Most important, do not – I repeat, do not – smoke on federal land. The penalties can include felony drug charges.
All legal weed in Alaska must be consumed in private, such as at your personal residence. However, cannabis cafes and lounges may soon open across the state.
Traveling Out of State With Legal Weed
While it’s clear that Alaska doesn’t share a border with any neighboring American states, you should never take, even a small amount, of marijuana into another state or across any border. Taking marijuana across state lines violates federal drug law and the Commerce Clause, a regulatory guideline on commerce between US states. So please don’t ruin it for everyone else by transporting legal weed across state lines.
And there’s something else to note:
Just because you can buy marijuana legally in Alaska doesn't mean you will avoid criminal prosecution if you bring it into another legal marijuana state.
Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana
This section is a matter of common sense – it’s illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana. Alaska has patrols are out there looking specifically for drunk and drugged drivers, including cannabis intoxication.
Remember that before you could get legal weed in Alaska, it was easier to get away with driving under the influence of marijuana. The testing mechanisms to evaluate whether a person was high weren’t nearly as accurate when compared to those for alcohol. In the past, if a person was suspected of being under the influence of marijuana (THC in specific), they would be brought down to the police station and a blood test would be conducted.
Nowadays, the cops are prepared and ready to get an immediate positive test for driving under the influence of marijuana. Alaskan police commonly use cotton swab saliva testing at the scene of the pullover. It takes now only a matter of minutes for a positive test.
Of course, you can always refuse the test. But, if you choose to do this, your license will be suspended for a good amount of time.
Issues With Finding Legal Weed
There has been major shortages of legal weed in Alaska, even though marijuana was legalized around three years ago. In some towns, like Fairbanks, only a few dispensaries exist to purchase marijuana. And disappointedly, the market is not advancing fast enough for consumer demand. It’s common for marijuana dispensaries in Alaska to close, reopen for a short period of time, and then close again. Such a retail environment leaves patients and recreational pot enthusiasts without a place to purchase legal weed in Alaska.
This is especially bad for patients who need marijuana to treat debilitating and chronic diseases. One of the primary causes was that the growers didn’t correctly anticipate how high the demand would be, though the total amount of licenses granted by the state was also an issue.
In the most populous city in Alaska, Anchorage, consumers are experiencing closings and shortages. There are only a few shops currently open, which, to me, seems counter-intuitive to helping economic activity and growth. A valid excuse for business owners is that it takes a while for weed to grow – and moreover, the population is smaller, so storing an excessive amount of pot is not seen as beneficial to many new marijuana businesses.
For some owners, the government was seen as the core problem. There are too many regulations and the cost of opening a business is high when compared to other states, such as Colorado, California, or Washington. What’s most upsetting to numerous dispensary owners is that they’re losing out on legal weed sales during the summer tourism season. Alaska's economy relies on tourist spending, among other industries.
Consumers Look to 2018 with Optimism
The government, growers, and weed shops are slowly starting to catch up to demand for legal weed in Alaska. The process of opening a marijuana-oriented business is becoming easier and the law is becoming better understood. In time, the bugs will be worked out, just like what happened in Oregon.
With Canada set to legalize marijuana possession and use in 2018, Alaska once more may be an frontier in the North American cannabis industry.