Where do we, as a society, draw the line?
That’s the question at the heart of an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use in Alaska.
Supporters of the initiative say they have collected nearly 45,000 signatures, about 15,000 more signatures than needed to put the initiative on the August 2014 ballot.
As proposed, the initiative would legalize the possession of marijuana legal for adults over the age of 21, and establish a regulatory framework to oversee the cultivation and sale of the drug.
The line on marijuana’s legality in Alaska has long been a blurry one. In 1975, the state Supreme Court found that the state’s privacy rights protected possession and private use of small amounts of marijuana. Voters approved medical marijuana use in 1998, but have rejected other ballot initiatives to legalize the drug. Gov. Frank Murkowski pushed a measure to criminalize marijuana through the Legislature in 2006 in what was billed as an effort to overturn the Supreme Court’s 1975 ruling, though the court has yet to weigh in on the measure.
Whether you think the initiative is a good idea depends on your perception of marijuana. Certainly, society’s views on the subject are evolving, as evidenced by recent efforts to legalize marijuana in Washington and Colorado.
Proponents argue that marijuana is no more harmful than other drugs that are regulated, such as alcohol and tobacco. Legalizing it, they say, would save on law enforcement and create a new revenue stream for government.
However, legalizing marijuana won’t alleviate many of social ills associated with drug use. Keep in mind, there are areas of the state in which alcohol is restricted because of the devastating effects it can have on a community. Yes, measures to prohibit the consumption of alcohol or drugs infringe upon personal freedoms. But there comes a point when personal freedoms come into conflict with the needs of a healthy community. It is at that point where society has drawn a line, where individual rights are curbed in the interest of society as whole.
The upcoming ballot initiative will ask us to change where we draw that line. In the interest of healthy, safe communities, Alaskans need to take a hard, critical look at whether that line should be moved.