JUNEAU (AP) -- A ballot measure seeking to legalize marijuana has cleared its first major hurdle, but it's unclear whether sponsors have enough time to put the question to voters in 2002.
The state on Friday approved an application for an initiative petition, meaning supporters may start collecting the 28,783 signatures required to get the measure on next year's ballot.
But the deadline to submit the signatures in time for the 2002 election is Jan. 14, and sponsor Tim Hinterberger said the two-month window posed a challenge.
''It's going to take a massive effort by volunteers,'' said Hinterberger, who is pushing the measure through an Anchorage-based group called Free Hemp In Alaska.
The measure is strongly opposed by Wev Shea, an Anchorage attorney who led a successful effort to defeat a similar ballot measure in 2000.
The measure would make it legal for people age 21 and older to grow, use, sell or give away marijuana or other hemp products, according to a state summary of the initiative. Marijuana could be regulated like alcohol or tobacco, and the measure allows for laws limiting marijuana use in some cases to protect public safety, the summary said.
Hinterberger and two other sponsors filed an initiative petition application earlier this year, but it was rejected in July by the state Department of Law. State attorneys said the original measure included unconstitutional language, so the sponsors changed the wording and resubmitted it in September. It passed legal muster the second time.
If supporters miss the Jan. 14 deadline, they will continue gathering signatures so the question can be put to voters in 2004, Hinterberger said.
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