It appears the third time is the charm for Alaskans’ bid to legalize marijuana.
After failed voter initiatives in 2000 and 2004, on Tuesday Alaskans voted 52 percent in favor of the legalization for the recreational use of marijuana. Alaska joins Oregon, which passed a similar pot measure Tuesday. Washington and Colorado became the first two states to legalize marijuana last year.
While absentee ballots remain to be counted, the yes votes hold a 9,624-vote lead.
The passage of Ballot Measure 2 allows the state to tax and regulate the production, sale and use of marijuana. Possession would be legal for those 21 years old and older. The initiative states marijuana would be regulated and taxed like alcohol.
Election results from the Kenai Peninsula show the borough was split on the issue. The more populated central region opposed the measure. More voters in the north and central peninsula voted no, while the southern peninsula and east voted for legalization.
District 29, which includes Sterling, Nikiski, Salamatof, Cooper Landing and Seward narrowly voted against marijuana legalization with 2789 against to 2639 votes in favor.
District 30, the central peninsula region, voted 54 percent against the measure. The southern peninsula, or district 31, received 54 percent in support of the initiative.
Soldotna resident Mike Hill said he thought the measure would pass.
His wife, Angela Hill said she was concerned about how pot would be regulated.
“It had to pass before the state could figure out how to regulate it,” Mike Hill said. “The drug war wasn’t working. We might as well try something else. If it doesn’t work down the road, we can go back.”
Once the election is certified, the initiative will not become law for 90 days. Then the state can create a marijuana control board under the direction of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. The board will have nine months to develop regulations to control marijuana business operations.
Kenai Police Chief Gus Sandahl said until the measure becomes a law, at an undetermined date next year, marijuana use is still illegal and police will still enforce the present law.
“We will adapt to the laws,” he said.
Kalie Klaysmat, the executive director with the Alaska Association of Chiefs of Police, said she was disappointed with the result. She said it was encouraging to see many people in the Kenai Peninsula have the same concerns.
“I’m proud of everyone who voted against legalization in the interest of public safety,” she said. “We will continue to speak up about the risks we see and hopefully others will do the same as we figure out how to properly regulate it.”
Kenai district No. 1 was the only precinct in district 30 to vote yes on measure 2 with 514 yes votes to 436. Soldotna voters cast 882 no votes to 699 yes.
Voters in the central Kenai Peninsula expressed a variety of concerns on marijuana legalization from increased regulatory costs and if it would affect the economy and work productivity.
Sterling resident Cynthia Wellman said she voted against marijuana legalization because the measure didn’t answer all her questions on how it was going to be regulated.
“Too many unresolved questions,” she said. “Look at Colorado and the problems they are having. It needs to be reworked.”
Opponents of the measure pointed to increased expense to law enforcement it would take to regulate marijuana dispensaries. Klaysmat said the state estimated the measure could increase the cost to small towns by $6 million.
Todd Hansen, of Sterling, said while he understands the health benefits associated with marijuana, he thought it would have a negative effect on the economy with the potential for unemployment and welfare to rise.
“It makes people not want to do anything and it creates a bigger burden on taxpayers,” he said.
Sterling resident Tom Hubbard agreed.
“The working people and tax payers are the ones paying the bills around here and the people that smoke pot don’t want to pay any bills they just want to go to the post office and collect a check,” he said.
Voters in Kasilof favored legalization. Anchor Point was the only southern peninsula region to vote against the measure. The measure also passed in Seward.
Kasilof resident Michael Bishop said it is about time marijuana is legal in the state. Since Ravin v. State allowed personal pot use in the privacy of the home in 1975, this decision has been a long time coming, he said.
“Get the government off our backs and out of our lives,” he said. “You can’t overdose on it. I’d rather let kids stay home and smoke pot than drink beer.”
Brenda Quinn, of Soldotna, said she voted to legalize pot because the system in place isn’t working. She said she is not pro-marijuana and has a teenage daughter. The bill would prohibit the sale to minors.
“It is costing billions of dollars that could be better spent elsewhere,” she said. “I don’t think people base their decision to smoke marijuana whether it’s legal or illegal. It’s a moral issue.”
Klaymat said the association would form a task force and look for ways to find money to fund police training and learn how to “cope with the repercussions” that could result with marijuana legalization.
She said the national trend of marijuana legalization is credit to the strategy used by the Marijuana Policy Project, she said.
“Their playbook is to use distraction and the public seems to feel their arguments are valid,” she said. “Time will tell. … Our agencies will respond and keep the community as safe as possible.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org